Counselling or psychotherapy – is there a difference?

The range of therapies available these days can be quite bewildering. Let’s look first at the question of whether to choose counselling or psychotherapy. In fact, is there a difference?  In short, no there isn’t. At least, there is no agreed definition either in law or among therapists themselves. We all use these terms in different ways!

Take me, for example. If you are looking at my website, you may be seeking help with something about yourself or your life that is too difficult to face up to or resolve on your own. I think of everything we do together as ‘counselling’. But I tend to regard as ‘psychotherapy’ the time s when we are working with more complex issues which run deeper in our minds, personalities and behaviour patterns. Often these are the ones that are harder to identify, understand and change for the better. That usually means working with you for longer.

What’s more, you might come to see me for something that is going on right now such as a relationship problem, grieving a loss or thoughts that bother you. But then you find yourself wanting to talk about patterns that repeat in your life which you don’t understand; or the effects of things that happened in your past. Possibly you start wondering about the deeper, underlying causes of how you feel, think and behave. ‘Counselling’ becomes ‘psychotherapy’. The work shifts back and forth between surface issues and these deeper issues. And the distinction becomes very unclear.

But not everyone agrees with how I use the terms ‘counselling’ and ‘psychotherapy’. So trying to understand the difference between them doesn’t really help much. And we find that what we call it really doesn’t matter anyway!

The difference between counselling and psychotherapy is not important

So, you can treat the difference between counselling and psychotherapy as not so relevant. Much more important is that you feel understood, supported and begin to see and feel the change you want. Indeed, when seeking a therapist, you should probably worry less about the label and spend more time looking at their training, experience and professional affiliation.  And if that looks okay, talk to them or meet and see if it feels right for you.

What about coaching?

In contrast to counselling and psychotherapy, coaching tends to be rigorously future-focused. It centres on life issues or professional goals. It is most useful when you want to kick-start a new chapter in your life or have got stuck and are not achieving what you want to. If you have lost your way somewhat, it can help you re-establish identity and re-shape the externals of you life. (Coaching does not address mental health problems. You should ask your doctor or therapist for help and support with these.)

Practically speaking, coaching helps you find focus, clarify your goals and identify the route-map and means to achieve those goals. On a psychological level, it can help you clear mental blocks, achieve confidence and self-belief, and so allow you to build momentum to move forward. Overall, it is can be seen as an exercise in empowerment.

The coach’s role is to have faith in you and your ability to find answers for yourself – possibly more faith than you have in yourself right now. And then to support and facilitate you in finding your own way forward.

When providing counselling – or psychotherapy! – I find it fairly natural to bring in elements of coaching from time to time, But, mostly, that is not the focus of my work with you as a client. In terms of moving your life forwards, we will more likely work on the trickier psychological blocks, the ones that you find it harder to even see for yourself.

You can find out more about how I work here.

Or you can contact me via this website with any questions you may have.