1 to 1 Counselling and Psychotherapy

Taking the step to see a therapist can be a big decision and can provoke all sorts of different feelings and questions.  One of the questions many people ask when they first begin thinking about therapy is: “What sort of therapist will be right for me”? 

That’s a sensible question to ask, as it shows you are wanting to get the most out of your therapy.  But it is not always easy to answer, as there are different titles and types of therapists in the UK.  Two of the titles that you are likely to come across in your search for a therapist are Counsellor and Psychotherapist.  So:  what is the difference between a Counsellor and a Psychotherapist? 

The simple answer is both Counsellor and Psychotherapist are generic terms that are often used interchangeably.  Some people prefer to say they are a Counsellor, others call themselves a Psychotherapist.  That might depend on the level of training the therapist has completed, and the types of approaches they use in their work with clients.  Some therapists who have completed a more in-depth Psychotherapy training course prefer to call themselves a Counsellor as the term might feel more approachable, more down-to-earth.   And some therapists will state that they offer both Counselling and Psychotherapy. 

 One thing that is important to bear in mind when choosing a therapist is that the therapist has completed training and is also a registered member of a professional association such as the BACP (British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists) or UKCP (United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy).  This means the therapist has completed training up to a minimum standard and that they have agreed to work ethically and safely, whether they are offering Counselling or Psychotherapy.     

Whilst the terms Counselling and Psychotherapy can be used interchangeably, there is agreement on how Counselling is different from Psychotherapy.  For many people, “Counselling” means a chance to meet with a therapist in a confidential and safe space where you can speak about difficulties and problems.  The therapist will listen and respond in ways that helps you to feel heard and to come to a better understanding of yourself and your situation.  It is likely to take place across a limited amount of sessions, often between 6 and 24 sessions. 

For many people, “Psychotherapy” offers a similar experience to Counselling.  However, the psychotherapist is more likely to also support you in considering and exploring your emotions and the way in which your past has impacted you in the present.  Offering a safe and therapeutic space, the Psychotherapist can help you to think about your childhood and important events in your life and how your feelings and difficulties may be connected.  Psychotherapists are likely to be better placed to support people with complex trauma.  For many people, Psychotherapy can be a longer-term commitment and may involve seeing a therapist more than once per week.  A therapist who is offering psychotherapy is likely to have completed more intense training at Post-Graduate level to develop the skills and expertise to provide this greater depth of focus.  A good way of considering the general difference between Counselling and Psychotherapy is to say that Counselling supports a person to tend to a wound by offering them a plaster, and a space in which they can tend to the wound.  For many clients, Psychotherapy takes the approach of offering stitches to that wound so the wound can be healed completely.

Overall, the best way to gain a sense of whether you want to begin Counselling or Psychotherapy is to speak to a therapist you are considering working with and ask them how they work.  This will allow you to get a sense of whether there is a good fit between what they you offer and what you need and is an important step in beginning therapy. 

For more information about choosing a Counsellor or a Psychotherapists, the BACP have produced this handy guide:


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