In recent years the distinction between the processes of counselling and psychotherapy seems to have become increasingly blurred. Often the word “therapy” is used informally to refer to both processes. Perhaps this is because of the great similarity between these two ways of working with people.
In trying to differentiate between them, I tend to think of counselling as having its origins in providing advice, support and guidance, whereas psychotherapy is more to do with the whole person (given that the Greek word ‘psyche’ means ‘soul’).
I think of counselling as a shorter-term way of working, lasting from a few weeks to a few months. Many of the skills and attitudes of the counsellor are the same as those of the psychotherapist, but the scope of the work and the focus of the sessions tends to be more narrowly defined.
For example, you might want to focus on one particularly difficult relationship. As we explore this in counselling we would probably also identify other problems and difficulties that are related but we would keep the focus on the original problematic relationship.
I think of psychotherapy as a longer-term way of working, lasting from, say, six months to many years. Sometimes people have a number of specific problems that they want to work through in psychotherapy. Sometimes people have a vague sense that their experience of life is not what it could be.
In psychotherapy, the focus is more on working with the person as a whole. As we engage with the various struggles and challenges they face, so we learn and discover how they can change themselves and the way they experience life.
What to expect if you are considering counselling or psychotherapy for the first time.
What kind of problems can you address?