One of the questions that people ask me often is “what is the difference between counselling and psychotherapy”. The terms counselling and psychotherapy are based on similar type of therapies, they overlap in various ways while also having differences that distinguish one from another. Both practices include a willingness to “hear” the client’s experience without judgement, to fully accept and to respect the client’s being and also the aspect of confidential context in which both therapies are carried out.
Counselling is a brief process of therapy ranging from a few sessions up to 10-15 sessions whereas psychotherapy runs for more sessions and can continue for years.
Counselling is usually oriented towards exploring a specific problem and psychotherapy is oriented towards exploring how the person thinks, feels and acts in unsatisfactory ways. There has been a lot of debate in the helping professions about the differences between counselling and psychotherapy.
Some define counselling as having an informative, supportive and advice-giving character, whereas psychotherapy explores in depth the relationship of the person with oneself, others and the world. Both therapies may differ in terms of economics (psychotherapy tends to be more expensive), social perception, training requirements (psychotherapy needs more years of study), resources available (public/private sector where therapy services are offered). Corsini (2008:2) observes that the actual processes that occur in counselling and psychotherapy are identical but the two types of therapies differ in their duration.
I believe that a counsellor may work in a psychotherapeutic manner and a psychotherapist may offer counselling as a part of a psychotherapeutic process. I prefer to use the term therapy for both counselling and psychotherapy and adjust the therapeutic process to the needs of every client.
Corsini, R.J. (2008). In Corsini, R.J. & Wedding, D. (eds). Current Psychotherapies. Belmont, CA: Thomson Brooks/Cole.