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26 February 2016

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The terms Counseling and Psychotherapy are often used interchangeably. Though they have similar meanings with significant overlap, there are some significant peculiarities between the two that are useful to keep in mind when one is considering a mental health care provider. The paper below will further explore on those distinctions that exist between counselling and psychotherapy.

According to The Royal College of Psychiatrists (2006), counselling is a type of rehabilitation that helps people speak out and resolve their problems and work through their emotional states.The Royal college of Psychiatrists defined a counsellor as an individual who employs “counselling” as a method to resolve people’s problems.Counselors guide clients to discover their own answers and support them through the actions they choose to take.

According to COSCA (2004), psychotherapy, just like counseling, is centered on a healing relationship between health care practitioner and a client. Psychotherapy takes place over a chain of meetings, though frequently it lasts longer than counseling. Some people participate in therapy off and on over several years. Instead of tapering in on individual problems, psychotherapy reflects complete patterns, long-lasting issues, and recurring feelings. This requires an openness to exploring the past and its impact on the present. The main aim of psychotherapy is to resolve the fundamental issues which fuel ongoing grievances. Psychotherapists assist to resolve past experiences as part of laying the base for a satisfying future.

Arbuckle (1967), argues that “…counselling and psychotherapy are in all essential respects equal” One of the most noticeable thing that must be considered concerning the similarities between counselling and psychotherapy is that the classes of issues that pull people to use counselling and psychotherapy are often very alike and the aims of both are similar, both counselling and psychotherapy can be seen as efforts to allow the person to build up resources to live in more healthy, meaningful and satisfying ways, and to develop selfawareness. Also a high degree of respect for the independence/autonomy of the client is a basic code in both counselling and Psychotherapy. With an understanding that the clients bring with them the potential needed to successfully achieve their aims. (COSCA, 2004)

Another similarity that was stated by COSCA is that both counselling and psychotherapy require the therapist to have highly developed skills. COSCA portrays that counsellors and psychotherapists go throughlong training, often lasting several years and their work is continuously supervised by another practitioner/expert who assist them to process and reflect on the matters of worry to their clients (2004: 2). Nevertheless it has been considered that different routes involve considerably different levels of difficulty and length of training and supervision.

Counselling and psychotherapy are both methods of responding to a wide range of human needs accordingly associated with what sometimes called difficulties in living and deeply felt need to make vicissitudes in one’s life. Both counselling and psychotherapy provide possibilities for those seeking help to find their own ways towards living in more satisfying and resourceful ways(Arbuckle 1967).Among the issues they deal or treat are self-confidence or self-esteem, relationship difficulties, work related stress, bullying, problems of drinking, bereavement, mental problems, vague feelings and desire for personal change.

Another area of similarity is that both counselling and psychotherapy may involve vibrant treaties between the therapist and the client as to what the aims of the therapy are and the roles involved. Some of these have been summarized by Professor Paul S Morgan-Ayres of Fellow Counselling and Psychotherapy Society (FCPS) as:

1. “An Assessment to ascertain whether the therapist can help you / have a good chance of helping you.
2. That the therapist does not lead you to believe in some sort of magic cure and that you realize that they are there to help you change yourself.
3. That you have explained to you what is proposed before the therapy commences so that you are giving informed consent to the therapy.
4. That any person under 16 years has a parent’s permission and signature. 5. That confidentiality is discussed and the therapist’s position is made clear. 6. That the therapist is registered, insured and monitored ”

Psychotherapy and counselling despite of their similarities they do also have differences, one of the differences between psychotherapy and counselling that is often quoted is that psychotherapy involves working in greater depth than counselling, that clients see their  psychotherapist more frequently and for a long period of time. By contrast counselling takes place over a shorter period of time. The counsellor sees his or her clients for a short time. Psychotherapy is about ‘deconstruction, and ‘reconstruction’ of the client’s self-concept, a process likely to be lengthy and at a greater depth than counselling might explore.

Furthermore psychotherapy deals more with deeper, long term problems and counselling with more situational and shorter term issues, therefore clients do not go to these different fields for exactly the same specific reasons because of the same general motivation. Taking it a step further one can note that different varieties have often quite different aims. Gestalt therapy for example: “seeks to promote a person’s awareness, support creative choice and encourage responsibility in a person’s effort to realize a meaningful and fulfilling life”

This appears to be a more wide ranging and deeper aim than that of counselling which is “ Help the person focus on ways to manage their difficulties a little or a lot better ” This relates to the point considered before that counselling is more focused on situational problems, and therefore its aims are likely to be more limited than psychotherapy.

Professor Paul S Morgan-Ayres (FCPS) argued that counselling is more suitable to clients who are more open to speaking while psychotherapyis suitable for those who find it difficult to open up, hence the psychotherapisttakes a more active role in guiding them. He further notes, asthe client turn out to be more able and used to speaking, the procedure may change in to a more clientcentred approach. Counselling, according to Morgan-Ayers, ‘is a process in which the therapist is there as a ‘tour guide’ for the client, refocusing them in aprocess that they are otherwise quite good at exploring themselves. Therefore the ‘counsellor speaks very little and gives the client plenty of space to offloadand talk themselves into self-knowledge’.

Another difference is that the pathology of a person is the primary focus of psychotherapy whereas counselling mainly focuses on personal strengths and resources. Psychotherapy conceptualizes the client as an individual with problems in psychological functions that problems like stress, anger management problems, unhappiness, relation problems and selfesteem problems. However counseling conceptualizes the client as a person in a social  context who needs urgent and brief treatment and the problem are treatable that is why past experiences are of less use during counseling.

According to a paper by Ivory research, (2009), the setting of the treatment is also thought to be different between counselling and psychotherapy. A counselling session often takes place in a number of non-medical settings such as an office or small therapy centre, or even in the therapists’ residents, whereas psychotherapy is often thought as taking place in a more medical setting, perhaps a clinic or hospital. Again this is not so clear cut, as counselling increases in respectability it can also be found in hospital settings, and psychotherapy can also take place in settings like the therapist home.

Another major difference can be drawn from the history of both psychotherapy and counselling. Psychotherapy has its origins in Freudian’s psychodynamics. The training period was also normally long, and involved working with real clients under supervision and consists of a long period of self-analysis both in working with clients and the analysis of the psychotherapist themselves which focused mostly on comprehensive regards in past issues. Nevertheless counselling was seen as something that can be done after a shorter period of preparation and less thorough self-analysis.

In conclusion, it can be argued that both counselling and psychotherapy’s main objective, despite their differences, is to offer the clienta stable platform in which to explore personal difficulties and also the role of the psychotherapist and counsellor is to guide clients to discover their own answers and support them through the actions they choose to take.


Arbuckle, D. S. (1967). Counselling and Psychotherapy: An Overview. New York: McGraw Hill.
Bayne,R., Bimrose, J. and Horton, I. (eds) (1996). New Directions in Counselling. New York: Routledge
British Confederation of Psychotherapists (1999). found at Internet URL: Accessed: 15/03/2014 Chriss, J. (1999). Counselling and the Therapeutic State. New York: Aldine De Gruyter COSCA (2004). Counselling and Psychotherapy: COSCA’s Description Stirling: Cosca Ivory Research, (2014). Found at internet: Morgan-AyresP.Prof.,found-at-Internet:URL: Sutton, J and Stewart, W. (2008). Learning to Counsel. 3rd Edition Oxford: How To Books.

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Personality. (26 February 2016). Retrieved from

"Personality" StudyScroll, 26 February 2016,

StudyScroll. (2016). Personality [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 5 December, 2023]

"Personality" StudyScroll, Feb 26, 2016. Accessed Dec 5, 2023.

"Personality" StudyScroll, Feb 26, 2016.

"Personality" StudyScroll, 26-Feb-2016. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 5-Dec-2023]

StudyScroll. (2016). Personality. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 5-Dec-2023]

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