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The Difference Between Counselling and Psychotherapy

By: Anna Martin - Updated: 20 Dec 2020 | comments*Discuss
Counselling Psychotherapy Communication

Counselling and Psychotherapy are often considered to be interchangeable therapies that overlap in a number of ways. Counselling, in specific situations, is offered as part of the psychotherapy process; whereas a counsellor may work with clients in a psychotherapeutic manner.

The key difference between the two courses of therapeutic communication treatment lies in the recommended time required to see benefits. Counselling usually refers to a brief treatment that centres around behaviour patterns. Psychotherapy focuses on working with clients for a longer-term and draws from insight into emotional problems and difficulties.

Who’s Who?

A psychotherapist is a trained individual who is able to offer a form of counselling to clients. Someone with the same qualifications however, may decide to be called a counsellor instead. Generally a practitioner offering short-term treatment is known as a counsellor. An individual with two or more years of training will opt to be known as a psychotherapist.

To the public the title counsellor appears less intrusive and more easily acceptable than the name psychotherapist suggests. A psychotherapist may therefore call him/herself a counsellor, in order to attract potential clients.

A counsellor will offer a more specialised service of communication that concentrates on providing a structure to the counselling experience. So treatment for addiction, for instance, will be offered in progressive stages over a period of time. A psychotherapist however, will focus on a deeper awareness of emotional issues, and looks at the foundation of the problem.

How to Get Your Expectations Met

Entering into any form of counselling requires a firm commitment on the part of the individual in distress, and open communication. In order to get the most out of the therapy it is best to ensure the correct form of counselling is considered. This starts by choosing to visit the type of therapist who is best skilled in the area you most need to focus on. For instance, a psychotherapist is the ideal person to help you deal with deep-seated problems and issues, whilst an addictions counsellor will help you understand dependency issues.

Psychotherapy will allow you to examine feelings, actions and thoughts and to learn how to evaluate and adjust where appropriate. Counselling however will enable you to explore personal development and to create adjustments to your life. Making a distinction between the two forms of therapy allows a better understanding of the process involved throughout the course of therapy. Both methods of counselling therapy provide people with a way of dealing with change psychologically.

Key Differences


  • Helps people identify problems and crises and encourages them to take positive steps to resolve these issues.
  • It is the best course of therapeutic treatment for anyone who already has an understanding of wellbeing, and who is also able to resolve problems.
  • Counselling is a short-term process that encourages the change of behaviour.


  • Helps people with psychological problems that have built up over the course of a long period of time.
  • It will help you understand your feelings, thoughts and actions more clearly.
  • Psychotherapy is a longer-term process of treatment that identifies emotional issues and the background to problems and difficulties.

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I think the difference is pretty simple. If you train as a counsellor that is what you are. Or if you train as psychotherapist that is what you are. I trained as a counsellor first, then trained as psychotherapist. Psychotherapy training is more in-depth and you are required to have more personal therapy. If it's all the same why do counsellors want to call themselves psychotherapists? In reality, in private practise, both counsellors and psychotherapists do long and short term work.
Deb - 20-Dec-20 @ 6:27 PM
Counselling goes beyond just treating short term cases. It is a rigorous process of helping individuals to find solutions to their emotional and behavioural challenges. Counsellors and psychotherapists all rely on psychologicalmodels for their therapeutic processes. So, functionally speaking, there is no clear cut difference between their practice. They are all working towards the psychological well-being of clients.
AB - 10-May-20 @ 8:07 PM
I agree with Rachel and others, above. Counselling is an in-depth treatment for sufferers of mental ill health and emotional disturbance. It may be short-term, for example, if funded by an employer. More often, it is longer-term and addresses the causes, symptoms, signs and all suffering of the child, adolescent, or adult. It is in no way a simple, brief treatment of a behaviour and to describe counselling, in such derisory terms, is like describing a surgeon as a knife wielder.
Pam - 8-Apr-20 @ 5:47 PM
This article should be expunged pls, so as not to mislead students who may come here in search of materials...
Anie - 10-Mar-20 @ 5:45 AM
This is ridiculous to be honest. Any counsellor reading this will be highly offended. Of COURSE we work long term with clients, of COURSE we look at deeper, underlying issues and the background of emotional difficulties. You seem to have no idea what you're talking about, because it sounds to me as though you're confusing counselling with CBT. They are not the same thing.
Rachael - 8-Feb-20 @ 8:29 AM
well explained but can we at least get some more of the differences to increase ones understanding...just my thought anyway
Amy - 10-Nov-19 @ 8:12 AM
This is confusing, it doesn’t give any information about differences in levels of training for counsellors and psychotherapists, it ignores the fact that counsellors often do long term deep work , eg in a psychodynamic model. This adds to the problem that there is no clear regulation of counsellors and therapiststo help people choose a well qualified counsellor or therapist , registration and accreditation helps, but we need a regulatory body that covers the whole talking therapy profession. A better response might address the differences in training, also on a more practical level give some help on the difference between counselling and ‘therapy’ which I not as clear cut as ‘ psychotherapy’ -
Maddy - 18-Oct-19 @ 6:32 AM
This article is quite offensive to counsellors- We do work with both emotional, deep seated and long term issues and are not just ‘technicians’!
Annie - 11-Oct-19 @ 11:33 PM
What is the relationship between guidance, counseling and psychotherapy? Please I will like the answer in a discussion form
SilverLily - 10-Oct-19 @ 11:27 PM
Problem already I've forgotwhat you can mend with all the loads of me.. My mind is really pretty much bad I had a brain sergary my memoree is badle gone and names.. I have 3 dayish thorts.... Try and tork and help me........ Thanks Andy I will put a Email in but I am not good to use
UNNY - 13-Sep-19 @ 10:24 PM
Got it the words not the same ....Thanks .. Guess i have better knowledge now .. Thanks info was helpful
Davic - 3-Jul-19 @ 8:54 AM
This is really helpful, I was so confused about the difference, now I clearly understood, also I want to ask a question, if I start studying psychology for counseling, can I upgrade myself later into a psychotherapist? You stated that it requires more years bring a psychotherapist than a counselor, I just want to ask if I can do both courses in a row or something, or will I have to choose a specific option between the two? Although I am good at counseling with my friends in need (I don't have any degrees, just in normal life) I like to explore deeper into it for which is have to study psychotherapy, I'm confused, plz explain me asap, thankyou
Butterscotch - 13-Jun-19 @ 9:29 PM
I find your website very informative and helpful. I am a Bible Teacher and Biblical Counselor. I am interested to participate in your discussions.
Jeremie - 2-Apr-19 @ 3:05 AM
Reading the official definition, then the varying comments, I'm even more confused by what is the definite distinction. Here is how I see it... Counselling is very short term, is mostly listening and the responding is with the words that suggest "why" so-and-so happened, summarising "what" has happened and "what" action now needs to be taken. Coaching is short-term, is for defined actionable behaviour that involves no risk of psychological damage, structured with "what" has to be done and "how" to achieve each objective. Psychotherapy is normally long-term to very long-term, is much listening but responding with words that advise "why" something happened, "what" has happened, "what" action must be taken and "how" to achieve the ultimate goal of mental well-being. For the counselling and coaching, formal qualifications for a charged fee are desirable, but a layperson for donations or just for free in a voluntary capacity should not be impeded so long as there is no risk of psychological damage. For psychotherapy, formal qualifications of several years duration must be achieved and a high professional fee can then be justified. Unlike other countries, Britain doesn't well distinguish between the technician and the professional. I think we should, thus patients have a hierachy of services available.
Pete Pimpernel - 3-Jun-18 @ 1:39 PM
It amazing, very much informative. keep it on We are into physiotherapy business, do check us out.
lee - 21-Feb-18 @ 11:12 AM
If I had schizophrenic like symptoms when I was younger but they disappear for some strange reason will they appear again later on when I get older with or without external substances or external stress in/around me? Also would a psychotherapist be better than a counselor or would a mental hospital help better either of them? Also I would like to know how do I get diagnosed with mental disorders?
K-star - 5-Jan-18 @ 6:53 AM
Mali - Your Question:
What are the differences and similarities ofCounselling and Psychotherapy ?Please send me the answer in point form.Thanks

Our Response:
The information contained in the article does just that.
TheCounsellorsGuide - 4-Jan-18 @ 1:56 PM
What are the differences and similarities of Counselling and Psychotherapy ? Please send me the answer in point form. Thanks
Mali - 4-Jan-18 @ 5:58 AM
@orepa - nice try, sounds like a homework question to me :)))))))
Sabnvo - 13-Nov-17 @ 12:17 PM
please help me on this; with three main reasons, draw the inherent distinction between counseling and therapy
orepa - 13-Nov-17 @ 1:52 AM
The article makes 'Counsellors' sound like CBT 'practitioners' yet still explains 'details' not substance? Erase and start again please before more are mislead.
Buddy - 19-Oct-17 @ 2:53 PM
How do I build and brand myself up as a psychotherapist now that and studying guidance and counseling at the masters levels, which institution and materials could make me realise this ambition
Patoooo - 17-Apr-17 @ 9:18 AM
Psychotherapy uses a more psychoanalytical approach and the training is certainlymore than three years . You are also expected to be in personal therapy twice weekly at least for a year. Since CBT training , this has all changed -Where personal therapy is not seen as important duringtraining. This has certainly led to confusion and blurred boundaries between therapeutic approaches, I believe.
Tania - 11-Feb-17 @ 9:10 PM
Is counselling a job that mostly refers clients to psychotherapy because it's not there job description to handle certain mental disorder?
InsanelySane - 21-Oct-16 @ 12:19 AM
At what stage do an individual needs the service of a professional personnel called "counsellor" therapist.
Freddie - 5-Oct-16 @ 6:14 PM
Where does this put Life Coach. I just started a certificate program to go along with my Reiki and Meditation facilitation practice. The Life Coach role for me is because as I apply active healing or meditate with clients, emotions and feelings come up and I would like to be able to listen and hold a space with my client. Occasionally In a helping way I will need to encourage them to move forward.Is this considered Councellng?
Debi - 23-Sep-16 @ 11:09 AM
These differences are entirely disputed. There is no difference between counselling and psychotherapy in terms of length and focus. The differences are not between counselling and psychotherapy, but lie in the modalitity (and thus the theoretical base and interventions) used -and even they are finding a more shared voice these days. If such misinformation is published on this website, it sadly gives me little confidence on behalf of the public for anything else being promoted. I speak as a Professor of Counselling and a senior accredited practitioner of thirty years experience.
The Prof - 11-Feb-16 @ 5:46 AM
Any qualified counsellor/ psychotherapist who has been counselling people for many years and is having personal/clinical supervision AND is not stuck in a counselling model will tell you that to be effective one can skillfully pivot or indeed cross over between counselling and psychotherapy. Get over yourselves people,with all due respect I am not defined by a counselling model or indeed a group of guys in the 1960's or thereabout who decided what models, approaches and titles we should have or use. If you truly have the ability to help people you will embrace your unique abilities and draw from whatever sources that are available to you, it is that alone that will make a difference.I can be whatever I need to be and use all the tools available to me from any field of psychotherapy for the betterment of the client. Even the greatest amongst us is still learning.
Patrick - 13-Jan-16 @ 9:09 AM
Some of this is accurate and some of this is a lot of rubbish and needs updating. Counsellors work on a less indepth level and psychotherapists undergo intense training on theory including learning about themselves too. Counselling is good to use on people who do already have good coping strategies in place and will not struggling with the concept of staying positive. Asking some clients in depressive states to stay positive and giving them 'homework' between sessions however can be shaming and counterproductive, leading to a louder inner critical voice. Psychotherapy can often delve into childhood - whether the client says it was good or bad, to understand their human development, behavioural, cognitive and emotional patterns, working its way to the present enabling the client to develop a much better understanding of themselves as a person, eradicating negative self believes/values and strenghtening their adult self.
Dee - 11-Oct-15 @ 4:38 PM
I was given a project with a topic titled "counselling as the core of therapy is frequently undervalued". Discuss. I really don't have an idea on how to start. Please help me out
lady h - 15-Sep-15 @ 10:13 AM
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