Counselling vs. Psychotherapy?

Counselling vs. Psychotherapy?


The terms “counselling” and “psychotherapy” are used interchangeably, but there can be a slight distinction. Counselling generally sometimes refers to short-term consultation while psychotherapy typically refers to longer-term treatment. 

Counselling often deals with present issues that are more easily resolved on the conscious level, whereas psychotherapy may more intensively examine a person’s psychological history and uncover aspects which might be out of our awareness or unconscious.

Counselling normally helps a client process and manage emotions such as grief or anger, dealing with immediate causes of stress and anxiety, clarify values and identify options when making important personal or professional decisions. It can help to manage conflicts within relationships, develop better interpersonal and communication skills, or change unhelpful thoughts and behaviours.

Psychotherapy, on the other hand, is an evolutionary, more gradual process which can help clients to look at long-standing attitudes, struggles, thoughts, beliefs and behaviours.  It goes deeper to uncover root causes of problems, resulting in more dramatic changes in perspective regarding oneself, one’s life experience and the world in general.  Ultimately, psychotherapy aims to empower the individual by freeing him/her from the grip of unconscious triggers or impulses through increased self-awareness.

It does all depend upon the counsellor/therapist and many will offer both to their clients.  What remains essential and the most important ingredient for both counselling and psychotherapy is that a relationship is built between the client and counsellor/therapist, which is based on understanding, respect, trust, support and confidentiality. This connection with each other is the key to success.

A qualified counsellor must have a diploma in counselling and be a registered member of a regulatory body and adhere to strict professional standards eg. The BACP (British Association of Counselling & Psychotherapy) or NCP (National Council of Psychotherapists) are the two leading UK bodies.

How Does It Work?

Both Counselling and psychotherapy involve a series of sessions, usually weekly, where the therapist and the client talk about the client’s issues and feelings. Even short-term counselling typically involves six to 12 sessions. The sessions take place at a regular, agreed time, in a place where the client and therapist will not be overheard or interrupted.

Therapy may involve talking about life events, feelings, emotions, relationships, ways of thinking and patterns of behaviour. The therapist will listen, encourage and empathise, but may also challenge clients to help them see their issues more clearly or in a different way.

There are many different ways of working with clients, usually referred to as ‘modalities’. These range from psychoanalysis (Freud) and CBT (cognitive Behavioural Therapy) to positive psychology and humanistic psychotherapy (eg. person-centred therapy). All are based on personal growth and self-development, Therapists usually train in one model of therapy but will often add others and then use specific approaches for specific issues. This is known as ‘integrative’ therapy.

Entering into any form of counselling requires a commitment on the part of the client and ideally, as trust begins to build, open and honest communication. In order to get the most out of the therapy it is a good idea to select a counsellor or therapist who is skilled in the area you need to focus on. For instance, at The Practice Shrewsbury, while all our counsellors work with issues such as anxiety or depression, we also offer a range of specialist areas – these include trauma specialists (for domestic abuse, sexual abuse and sexual violence); a bereavement specialist; a gender diversity specialist,; a play therapist (for Primary age children) etc.,

Both counselling and psychotherapy provide people with a way of dealing with a wide range of psychological changes which may help people to understand themselves and others more fully, gaining greater clarity and a new perspective on life.

If you’d like to find out more, please call and meet us for an initial meeting to explore how we can support you.

By Louise Leadbetter, Counsellor & Psychotherapist