This is a question that often arises and it is perhaps because the differences between counselling and psychotherapy can be subtle. Both terms tend to be used interchangeably these days with many practitioners, including myself, using both counsellor and psychotherapist in their job description.
In actual practice, there is quite a bit of overlap as a therapist may provide counselling with specific situations and a counsellor may function in a psychotherapeutic manner. However, knowing the difference between the two can help when you are deciding what form of treatment would suit you best. So here is the difference.
Taking the time to talk before you begin treatment will also help you find someone who is a good fit for you. This is extremely important as research shows that it is the connection between therapist and client that is the most important factor in successful outcomes in therapy.
An additional safeguard to keep in mind is to ensure that the person is accredited with a professional organisation, the Irish Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy (IACP) for example. Accreditation ensures that practitioners are appropriately qualified and work to recognised standards of professional competence.
In the context of mental health, “Counselling” generally relates to more short term work and tends to focus on a particular symptom or problematic situation you are faced with in your life right now. The therapist will be very proactive in helping you and offer suggestions and advice for dealing with your particular issue. Problems are discussed in the present-tense, without too much attention on the role and influence of past experiences.
“Psychotherapy” on the other hand, often involves longer term work as the focus is not usually on a specific issue but more on gaining insight and awareness into our way of thinking and being in the world. Instead of narrowing in on individual problems, psychotherapy considers overall patterns, chronic issues and feelings. This requires an openness to exploring the past and its impact on the present.The aim of psychotherapy is to resolve the underlying issues which influence life as it is lived today. This kind of exploration can be helpful in deepening our own self-awareness and knowing who we really are.This can help us choose different and ultimately more satisfying ways of living our life, more aligned with our authentic self.
“When inward tenderness finds the secret hurt,
pain itself will crack the rock and, Ah! Let the soul emerge ”
Do I need therapy ?
You've suffered a trauma and you can't seem to stop thinking about it
A bereavement, a breakup or job loss can be enough to require counselling. The grief we feel from a loss can impair daily functioning and even cause us to withdraw from friends and family. If you find you aren’t engaging in life like before or your mood has been consistently low for the last while, it may be time to support yourself with a safe, confidential space to talk about what has happened.
Nothing you have done yourself seems to have helped
Sometimes our own coping skills fail us. They simply stop working, or become far less effective than they were in the past. If you’ve tried lots of different things already like talk to a friend, exercise more, seek out support online, apply various self-help techniques – and nothing has made much of a difference, it may be time to talk to a professional.
Your friends and family are tired of listening to you
Friends and family members are there for us through good times and bad. But sometimes the people in our lives can also feel overwhelmed by our problems and are unable to provide support in the way we need. If this is your experience, it’s time to reach out and talk to someone whose job it is to listen, and who can help guide you through your problems.
People have noticed and said something to you
Sometimes friends can notice changes in us before we do, so it’s worth considering the perspectives of those around you. Maybe it was a friend who pulled you aside one day and said, “Hey, is everything okay? I notice you seem to be really struggling lately… maybe you should talk to someone?” Or a partner who’s said, “You haven’t been yourself in weeks, you need help”. Think about their advice, it’s coming from a place of love and concern.
You start overusing or abusing something to cope
When the going gets tough, many people turn to their trusted mood-altering substance or activity of choice – such as alcohol, drugs, food, gambling etc. If you find yourself depending on something to change how you feel, this could be a sign you are trying to numb feelings that should be addressed. If you are considering entering into therapy and are still unsure, don’t forget that you can come along for one session to give it a try, ask any questions or raise any concerns you may have. There is no obligation to continue, a second appointment is only scheduled if you wish to go forward.
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