The terms counselling and psychotherapy are often used interchangeably to cover a range of talking therapies with considerable overlap. In certain situations, counselling is offered as part of the process of psychotherapy; whereas a counsellor may work with clients in a psychotherapeutic manner.
The key difference between these two approaches lies in the practitioner's training and experience, and the depth to which the work is able to go. We might say that the counsellor's focus is on 'doing' – practising techniques and methods of intervention – whereas the therapist is more concerned with 'being'. The therapist's primary 'instrument' is him or herself, and hence he or she draws on theoretical knowledge to help inform interventions, shape the client's experience and provide a reparative relationship.
Generally, counselling refers to a briefer treatment centred on addressing a specific behavioural issue, while psychotherapy explores more of the emotional and psychological roots of long-held patterns. The practitioner's capacity to go to depth is in large part governed by the extent to which they have worked through key issues in their own personal therapy.
Generally, a counsellor will offer a targeted service providing a clear structure to the therapeutic experience. Often the work centres on a specific issue and the steps needed to address or remedy that issue, so for instance, treatment for addiction will be offered in progressive stages over a set period of time.
Counselling can be directive, but rather than simpply offering advice, a good counsellor will often guide the client to discover their own answers and support them through the actions they choose to take. In counselling, problems are largely discussed in the present-tense with less attention given to the role of past experiences and the unconscious. A counsellor will generally hold a recognised counselling qualification and be registered with a professional body such as the BACP and abide by their code of ethics. While some counselling trainings expect trainee counsellors to attend a set number of personal therapy sessions, others do not require a practitioner to do any personal work.
Psychotherapy brings deeper awareness to the emotional background and psychological foundation of the issues in a person's life, rather than working with the specific behaviours they result in. Psychotherapists seek to resolve past experiences as part of laying the foundation for a satisfying future, hence the work may involve the client examining their past and considering how learned patterns continue to impact the present and future.
A psychotherapist will often glean information from a variety of unconscious sources – such as the body, 'inner child', dreams and the imagination – and reflect on the therapeutic relationship itself, in order to bring long-standing patterns to light. A good pschotherapist works from an on-going enquiry into his or her own state of being, and is hence more able to tolerate traumatic memories or difficult emotions. Consequently, most psychotherapy trainings insist students attend personal therapy for at least the duration of their studies. A psychotherapist will often hold a recognised psychotherapy qualification, be registered with and/or accredited by a professional body such as the UKCP or BACP, and abide by their respective code of ethics.
The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) registers and accredits counsellors, psychotherapists and their colleges while the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) registers and accredits psychotherapists, therapeutic counsellors and psychotherapy trainings. Broadly speaking, the BACP requires less formal training in terms of time (2 years) whereas UKCP courses can take up to 4 years and require much more client contact hours and personal therapy hours.
I am a registered and accredited UKCP psychotherapist with over 12 years experience. My training in psychotherapy (4 year MA) and counselling (3.5 years NZQA level 7 diploma - equivalent to an undergraduate degree) enables me to work with a variety of clients across a wide array of issues and concerns. My experience includes working with:
I also pay attention to our human impact on the more-than-human world and 'solastalgia', the psychological distress caused by realisation of our role in this ecological crisis.