What’s the Difference Between Counselling and Psychotherapy?

If you’re seeking therapy, you may be faced with deciding between a counsellor and a psychotherapist – but what’s the difference?

What is counselling?

The term ‘counselling’ can be used to describe any talking therapy. Talking therapy involves sharing the issues affecting you with a person who is trained to listen and respond, in a supportive, safe environment.

Whilst all types of talk therapy can be called counselling, the term is most often used in the UK to refer to the following therapies:

  • Couples-counselling
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Person-centered therapy (also called humanistic therapy)
  • Integrative counselling (a combination of different approaches)

Counselling typically focuses on your behavioural patterns – the actions and choices causing your life to be the way it is now. It may refer to the past, but generally concentrates on helping you with what you’re experiencing in the present. It can be done as an individual, a couple, a family or a group.

A counsellor will help clients deal with the issues and circumstances they’re currently feeling distressed by. Counselling can help with challenges clients are facing in their day-to-day lives, traumatic situations like bereavement or divorce, and things like addiction and confidence issues.

Counselling is often referred to as ‘short-term’ or ‘time-limited’, meaning a client and therapist will decide at the beginning how many sessions they’ll spend together. As it’s short-term, counselling can be structured, with a plan agreed in advance.

 

What is psychotherapy?

The term ‘psychotherapy’ is also used to describe different talking therapies, and, like counselling, focuses on the behavioural patterns causing you distress.

However, rather than focusing on the present, psychotherapy encourages you to look at your past in order to understand your current emotional state. It explores how your experiences as a child and young adult may have had effects which are still causing you issues now.

Forms of therapy that are generally referred to as ‘psychotherapy’ in the UK include:

  • Psychoanalytic psychotherapy
  • Psychodynamic psychotherapy
  • Jungian psychoanalysis
  • Existential psychotherapy
  • Dialectical behaviour therapy
  • Dynamic interpersonal therapy
  • Cognitive analytical therapy
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy
  • Integrative psychotherapy (a combination of different approaches)

The aim of psychotherapy is to find the roots and underlying causes of your challenges and issues, rather than solely focusing on how to deal with them now. Like counselling, it can be done as an individual, couple, family or group.

Psychotherapy can help with a wide variety of issues, including current challenges like addiction, stress, bereavement and relationship problems, past issues like childhood abuse and neglect, and mental health issues like depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD and bipolar disorder.

Psychotherapy is generally a longer-term form of therapy, lasting anything from six months to a few years, and tends not to follow an overall plan.

Do I need a counsellor or a psychotherapist?

The therapist you choose should be the one who suits your needs, issues and personality the best.

Rather than asking whether you need a counselor or psychotherapist, it might be more helpful to question what sort of therapy and therapist will work best for you.

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