At The Summit Clinic, we understand how confusing the world of therapy can be. For most of us, knowing the differences between life coaching, counselling, CBT, psychotherapy and the many other forms of therapy out there isn’t a pressing concern: that is, until we’re looking for help.
If you recognise that it’s time to try therapy, it’s vitally important that you seek the right kind of help for you.
And that’s what we’re here to do: we’re here to help you understand the differences between psychotherapy and counselling, so that you can make an informed decision about which will be best for your individual situation.
Psychotherapy vs Counselling
Often, even in professional circles, the titles of ‘psychotherapist’ and ‘counsellor’ are used interchangeably. Culturally, there is some sense that counselling is less serious or less stigmatised than psychotherapy, despite there being many similarities between the two. Counselling has a reputation of being more accessible than psychotherapy, which often comes with more extreme medical connotations. Sometimes, registered psychotherapists will even call themselves counsellors in order to attract more clients.
However, at The Summit Clinic we are firm believers that psychotherapy and counselling are both immensely useful practices that can help individuals improve their lives and take back control of their mental health. We call ourselves psychotherapists because that’s what we are, and we work hard to be relatable, honest and transparent, doing our part to make psychotherapy more accessible and less intimidating.
Psychotherapy vs Counselling: Who is it for?
One of the biggest differences between psychotherapy and counselling is who it can help. Psychotherapy, as we’ve written about before, focuses on reconnecting your conscious and subconscious mind, with the goal of creating alignment and allowing you to move on from traumatic experiences and gain a clear path forwards for your life.
While psychotherapy involves deep, personal work, counselling tends to focus more on specific short-term issues in your life. For example, counselling can help you to work through a period of grief or the ending of a relationship, but it will tend to do so by focusing on the here-and-now (as well as the future) rather than delving deep into your past and your subconscious to find a pathway forwards.
As such, psychotherapy is often better suited to those people who are struggling with either specific or general issues, but who can’t necessarily point to a particular trigger. Psychotherapy helps you to understand why you think and feel the way you do, before helping you to understand how you can adjust your mindset to make progress. Counselling will address specific issues in your life and help you to find solutions, but without diving into the why.
Psychotherapy vs Counselling: Who does it?
One of the other crucial differences between psychotherapy and counselling is who it’s conducted by. As you’ll remember, there are some registered psychotherapists who prefer to call themselves counsellors to avoid the stigma that psychotherapy may have, but in general there are some key differences between registered psychotherapists and counsellors.
Both psychotherapy and counselling derive from the same root: talking therapies based on psychoanalytic theory. Psychotherapy and counselling both involve talking with a trained professional to achieve the goal of improved psychological well-being. So why are the two practices conducted by different professionals?
Being a registered psychotherapist requires deep and analytical training, both in theory and in practice. Psychotherapists go through rigorous training to understand the theoretical basis of psychoanalysis (in the case of The Summit Clinic, our specialism is in Jungian psychoanalysis) as well as gaining a deep knowledge of how to apply psychoanalytic concepts to talking therapies. Psychotherapists are scientists at their core, with a fundamental and in-depth knowledge of the workings of the brain, alongside the theoretical psychoanalysis learnt through rigorous academic training.
Counsellors, while many will still have a huge corpus of academic achievement behind them, are less concerned with the deep analysis that psychotherapists are, and therefore less focused on theoretical groundwork and more on the present situation. A counsellor will have a good understanding of psychology and psychoanalysis, just like a psychotherapist, but will not be trained to delve deeper into the psyche to uncover potential diagnostic issues.
Both a counsellor and a psychotherapist will have an understanding of how the human brain works, but their approach will differ: counsellors focus on how to change a client’s behaviour in the present; psychotherapists work on understanding the why of the client’s mindset before considering the how of moving forwards.
How do I know whether psychotherapy or counselling will help me?
We’ve spoken before about how important it is to recognise that some form of therapy can help you. Taking the step to admitting that, even to yourself, is hugely important and can be the start of a journey that can truly transform your mental wellbeing. If you’re unsure whether therapy can help you, we’ve written our thoughts about it here.
Once you have decided that therapy might be useful for you, it’s very important to find the right kind. As we’ve discussed, while psychotherapy and counselling derive from the same psychoanalytic core, there are key differences in the approaches taken by each – and therefore there is likely to be one that suits your specific needs better than the other.
Consider the following questions:
- Is the issue you’re struggling with a one-off? Is it something you haven’t felt before, and are unsure how to deal with?
- Is your relationship with yourself and with those around you generally positive? Are you generally satisfied with the direction your life is taking, except for this single issue?
If you feel yourself agreeing with these questions, then counselling could be a great option for you. Counselling helps with acute issues that can often be solved without deep analytic work with the subconscious mind. However, if you’re reluctant to agree with those questions, consider these instead:
- Is your current concern a recurrent pattern in your life? Do you feel like you’ve been in similar situations (or thinking in similar ways about different situations) before now?
- Are you finding it difficult to connect with those around you? Do you struggle with feeling positive and confident in yourself?
If those questions feel more aligned with your way of thinking, you will benefit from psychotherapy. The deep work psychotherapy does will help you to understand why you’re seeing recurrent patterns of thoughts or behaviour in your life, and then work with you on how to break the pattern and move towards a positive resolution. In these situations, counselling can feel like it’s helping, as you might find a positive resolution to your current issue; but, importantly, you’re unlikely to be able to make any deep and meaningful breakthroughs and might find yourself in a similar situation again, without the means to handle it without further help.
If psychotherapy is right for me, what do I do next?
If you feel like psychotherapy could help you, it’s vitally important that you now find the right therapist. Not only will you be spending regular time with this person, you’ll also be talking to them about things that are often hugely personal – so feeling comfortable around your therapist and being able to trust them enough to open up is crucial.
Before committing to a therapist, it’s important that you have a conversation with them – not just their secretary. Finding a therapist relies a great deal on personal connection, and there is a lot riding on that relationship so it’s important to find someone who fits well with you. If you don’t feel comfortable during an initial conversation, then it might be time to look elsewhere.
At The Summit Clinic, our primary focus is on finding you the help you need. We focus on you, not ourselves. If we don’t feel like we’re a good fit for you, or if we believe there’s someone else out there who could help you more, we’ll tell you. We want to get the best outcome for you, and if that isn’t possible with our help we will point you in the right direction.
If you’re ready to try therapy, get in touch with us to see if we can help.