Counsellor or Psychotherapist?

The terms ‘counselling’ and ‘psychotherapy’ fall under the umbrella term ‘talking therapies’. But do these practitioners work differently?

The answer is sort of… sometimes, but not always.

Okay bear with me and let me explain because there is not a black or white answer. 

In the UK, The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) has not made any official distinction between the two terms. Therefore, you may find they’re used interchangeably across the board.

Having said that, Counsellors usually work short-term (approx. 6-12 weeks) and typically concentrate on one issue that a client wants to address. They may work with some structure in the sessions with a focus on outcomes, for example, CBT.

Psychotherapists though, usually work longer-term (approx. 12 weeks – several years), allowing more time for a client to explore various past and present issues and in more depth. It provides space for looking at early relationships, emotional difficulties rooted in childhood and so on, for example, Psychodynamic Psychotherapists.

Key differences

Time-limitedNot time-limited
Structured sessionsUnstructured sessions
Focus on one issueExplore past and present issues
Focus on behavioural patterns
and outcomes
Explore childhood-related issues,
relationship patterns,
emotional difficulties and so on

Grey areas

This isn’t to say however that you are not able to work a Psychotherapist in the same way you would work with a Counsellor. If the Counsellor is trained to work in this way and is not limited by time, then you absolutely can. Some Counsellors may work in a more psychotherapeutic way, and some Psychotherapists may work in a time-limited or more structured way.

It can also depend on the type of training the individual has had. Without getting too technical, training course content varies and some courses require a certain amount of years training from trainees before they have a particular title.

Additionally, it can depend on how the individual wants to refer to themselves. Some Psychotherapists prefer to be called Counsellors (for various reasons) – so it’s always worth reading up on the practitioner.

A third term

Okay so there is another common term, which is ‘therapist’ and it’s actually the term I tend to lean towards in conversation. Partly because saying ‘Counsellor and Psychotherapist’ is a bit of a mouthful! But I also feel like I am missing something out if I just say one and not the other. My training and experience post-qualification have allowed me to tailor the way in which I practise depending on what environment I am working in.

Hey, maybe it’s the millennial in me, I’m partial to shortening words and using acronyms, but more importantly I’m an advocate for individual differences and choice.

When deciding what practitioner to work with, the key is shopping around and finding what works for YOU.