What’s the difference between Counselling and Psychotherapy?

I’m often asked what the difference is between counselling and psychotherapy. The fact is, there is no clear-cut difference. Much of what counsellors and psychotherapists do overlap, and then there can be two counsellors or two psychotherapists that work in very different ways. It is generally considered that psychotherapists work at a deeper emotional level than counsellors. This is simply a generalisation. There are many practitioners, including coaches and hypnotherapists that do exceptionally deep emotional work that can be more effective than that of some psychotherapists.

How do I know which therapist to choose?

Deciding what therapy you need, among dozens of types of therapies is a bewildering prospect. You are also making an expensive investment. With a broad range of therapeutic approaches being offered, some of which claiming to be more effective than others, for example, CBT verses Psychodynamic psychotherapy, how do you decide which therapist to see? Some therapists offer brief therapy, meaning a few sessions, others work in a way that is ongoing, perhaps several years. Again, one way is not necessarily better than the other. Spending more money on ongoing therapy is not necessarily going to be more effective than a few sessions of brief therapy. Most types of therapy these days tend to be brief, ranging from a few weeks to a few months.

Good therapists, not good therapies

First of all, there is no one approach that fits all.  Clients will naturally experience a better ‘fit’ with some therapists and not others. This invariably has nothing to do with their therapeutic approach, and everything to do with the therapist’s character and authenticity. In fact, research shows that it is the quality of the therapeutic relationship and how you feel about the therapist that are the most important factors. Do you feel respected and understood? Do you feel seen and heard? Safe to share your most intimate feelings? Do you feel the therapist is strong enough to contain the intensity of your emotions? Techniques are important, but it’s these human elements that come first.

No one theoretical approach will be effective for every client. This is why for me, its not important to identify with one way of working. My experience shows me that using a combination of methods is what works best. This is partially why since university, 20 years ago, I have chosen to learn and develop my knowledge and skills in a variety of disciplines  from physiology to coaching. I work with what resonates, integrate that in to my practice, and reject what doesn’t work. I try to remain open and flexible, all the while evaluating my practice, so I can best serve my clients and truly understand their needs.