The terms ‘counselling’ and ‘psychotherapy’ are sometimes used synonymously and interchangeably, and the word ‘therapy’ is often used as an umbrella term that includes both counselling and psychotherapy.
Both approaches aim to promote good mental health and wellbeing. However, when a distinction is made between counselling and psychotherapy, the differences are usually regarded to be along these lines:
- Psychotherapists are concerned with longer-term issues, and have had several years of training in preparation for working in an in-depth way. Psychotherapy therefore is regarded as a longer process that identifies the background to problems and difficulties, and seeks to alleviate negative impact of past experiences upon the present (and future).
- Counselling usually involves fewer sessions. The focus tends to be on a single issue or a specific problem and looks at the steps that may be necessary to address or solve it. Such problems are addressed from more of a present-day perspective, with less attention given to overall personality patterns and to the influence of past experience.
In my therapy practice, I regard counselling and psychotherapy as being on a continuum and I will set out to establish with you what you want. In my view, it is the client who is the expert. You know more about any difficulties that you may have than does the therapist.
Choosing between counselling and psychotherapy is not as crucial as finding a practitioner who is ‘a good fit’ for you; that is, someone with whom you are comfortable and can develop a good rapport. Research shows that the quality of the connection between the counsellor/psychotherapist and the client is the most significant factor in the achievement of successful outcomes. If you are seeking help, a good therapeutic relationship will provide you with opportunities to find your own direction towards living a more satisfying and resourceful life.
Additional notes on professional roles:
A psychiatrist is a doctor who is trained to specialise in mental health disorders and to prescribe and monitor medication. Counsellors and psychotherapists are not qualified to prescribe but, with a client’s agreement, may if necessary liaise with a GP or psychiatrist regarding medication issues.
A psychologist is not qualified in medicine but in psychology. Psychologists work in different fields such as legal or educational; clinical psychologists are specialists in the health sphere.