Psychotherapy is a broad term used to describe talking therapies, including counselling. Both counsellors and psychotherapists provide a service for those looking for support and treatment for a wide range of mental health and emotional issues. The possibility that there is a difference between counselling and psychotherapy is a heavily debated question in the field of mental health treatment, and one that has yet to be answered. Some claim that counselling tends to tackle problems at the time of the crises, whereas psychotherapy focuses on longer-term psychological problems. However, this is not a universally agreed contention and you are advised to contact professionals personally to find out more about how they work.
Whether you choose a counsellor or psychotherapist, the most important thing is that you choose the right individual for you. How you connect with the counsellor or psychotherapist you choose is likely to determine how successful the treatment is. It is also helpful to have a little knowledge on the different therapies on offer. There are many different therapies that can be used by counsellors and psychotherapists, some involve looking at past relationships and experiences to make sense of them, and others involve looking at the 'here and now'.
As you may have already noticed, there are many different terms out there to describe professionals working in the mental health industry - each helping in different ways. Understanding the key differences between these professionals and how they can offer support should help you decide which one is right for you if/when you decide to seek help.
Take a look at the following brief descriptions:
Psychiatry is the study of mental disorders, covering diagnosis, management and prevention. A psychiatrist must undergo full medical training as a doctor before choosing to specialise in psychiatry. Once a psychiatrist has become fully trained, they can go on to specialise further in general psychiatry, forensic psychiatry, old age psychiatry, psychiatry of learning disabilities, psychotherapy or child and adolescent psychiatry.
Unlike many other mental health professionals, psychiatrists can assist in medical treatment and testing as they have the appropriate training.
Psychology is the study of the human mind and the way we think, act and behave. As well as looking at the way our minds work in day-to-day life, psychologists are also interested in mental health conditions. The title of psychologist can be given to someone who has completed a degree in psychology, however there are other titles in psychology that are protected by law (such as clinical psychologist).
Most psychologists fall into one of two camps - they are either research-oriented (meaning they spend time studying the way the mind works to better our understanding) or applied (meaning they apply their skills to patients).
Psychotherapy is a term used to describe a range of talking therapies and covering the approaches and methods used within each type. It is this broad usage which has led some professionals to use the titles psychotherapist and counsellor interchangeably. When we talk about a psychotherapist, we are talking about a professional who works with clients to help them overcome a range of emotional, social and mental health issues through talk therapies.
As it stands the title psychotherapist is not regulated by law. There are however, variations of the title which are regulated/protected by industry bodies (such as registered psychotherapist) and which generally indicate a high level of training.
A counsellor will use psychotherapy to help clients develop understanding and insight into their behaviours/feelings, with the aim of overcoming difficulties. In some cases the simple act of talking through difficulties with a counsellor can help the client, in other cases a more tailored therapy approach is required. This will depend on the nature of the concern and will be assessed by the counsellor. Similarly to psychotherapist, the term counsellor is not currently regulated by law - so you are advised to check a counsellor's experience and training to ensure they are suitably qualified.
Only you can decide whether you wish to try counselling. Just talking to someone confidentially who is not a friend or family member can make all the difference. Counselling provides a regular time for those in distress to explore their feelings and talk about their problems. A counsellor can help you develop better ways of coping, allowing you to live the life you deserve.
All counsellors displaying a Counselling Directory Policy badge have been verified using a stringent approvals policy - this means they've been checked to ensure they’re registered and/or accredited by a relevant professional body.
By choosing a therapist registered with a professional body you can be reassured that they have met the standards of training and experience required by that organisation. Most professional bodies will also have a Code of Ethics that outlines the way their members should work, and a complaints process to follow if things don’t work out as planned - so you know you’re in good hands.
There are various professional bodies (also known as member organisations) in existence that have taken on the role of self-regulation of counselling/psychotherapy. Whilst counsellors and psychotherapists are under no legal obligation to become a member of a professional body, membership will mean they have met certain requirements set by their professional body and must abide by a code of ethics and complaints procedure.
Many counsellors offer weekly sessions, however this can vary depending on the type of therapy and your personal requirements.