Counselling and psychotherapy?
You may have noticed that on our Living Therapy website, Anna and I offer both counselling and psychotherapy. Yes, we are both trained psychotherapists and offer psychotherapy, but we also make a point of offering counselling as well. You may wonder, why do we do this? Are counselling and psychotherapy different? And if so, how?
All good questions, because even in our industry there aren’t clear boundaries between counselling and psychotherapy. It seems that over time, the distinction between has become blurred. The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), for example, takes the approach that there is no difference between them in terms of role, value and effectiveness. Counselling and psychotherapy are seen by the BACP as ‘umbrella terms that cover a range of talking therapies…delivered by trained practitioners who work with people over a short or long term to help them bring about effective change or enhance their wellbeing.’
Personally, I like that counselling and psychotherapy are grouped together. After all, they are both focused on the use of relationship and dialogue in order to help others.
But they aren’t exactly the same. I see subtle yet significant differences between counselling and psychotherapy that are important to flag. Understanding this difference gives us clarity about what to expect – and ask for – in the therapy room.
What’s in a name?
Much meaning can be taken from the origins of words. Take the word ‘counselling’. A counsellor is one who provides counsel, a word derived from the Old French meaning advice, deliberation and thought. It is also closely related to the Anglo-French word, counsaylen, which is to take counsel with oneself, to consider. Historically, counsellors advised the monarch or ruler of a land, offering new perspectives, considered plans of action and opinions.
Modern day counselling can therefore be seen to assist an individual to ‘take counsel’ or seek advice from within. This process is achieved through relationship with a counsellor, someone who can help the individual find his or her way, perhaps in order to form an action plan for the future. I see the relationship between client and counsellor as that between a monarch and a trusted advisor. The client is ruler of his or her life, and the counsellor is there to offer wisdom, support and a listening ear.
‘Psychotherapy’ has its roots in the Greek words psyche, which means of the soul or of the mind, and therapeia, which is curing, healing, or service done to the sick. A psychotherapist can therefore be thought of as a soul healer, or a mind healer. This is someone who, amongst other things, helps heal wounds of the past. This type of work is done at depth. But don’t confuse depth with long term therapy. People can gain profound realisations and experience healing in short amounts of time – that has much to do with timing and one’s readiness to move forward.
I think the main difference between counselling and psychotherapy is that of focus and need. Counselling is concerned with helping you find your way, formulating an action plan, building resources, exploring limiting beliefs and thoughts, unloading surplus emotions in order to think clearer. I see it as very here-and-now/future oriented. Psychotherapy is concerned with enabling you to heal, to explore meaning and life purpose, to shift old patterns and habits, recover from trauma, to move towards balance and alignment. There is often a need to go into the past in order to move forward.
That being said, counselling and psychotherapy certainly overlap. Both are service oriented roles that desire change and wellbeing for the client. Both approaches can work well in either short or longer term arrangements. And both require a quality relationship between client and practitioner in order to succeed in their aims and goals.
Different times in life may require different services. People are unique, with their unique problems and concerns. This is why I think it’s important that a therapist be able to deliver both counselling and psychotherapy: counsel (in the old sense of the word), and healing. It is the therapist’s job to know which approach to deliver in any given moment.
Image: Green Lustgarden fabric by Stig Lindberg