Counselling or Psychotherapy: What's the difference?

Counselling vs psychotherapy

‘Psychotherapy’ and ‘counselling’ are terms that are often used interchangeably. Although they are very similar, there are some subtle differences as well.

Technically speaking, ‘counsellor’ means ‘advisor’. It involves two people working together to solve a problem. It is a term that is used in conjunction with many types of advice giving. For example, financial planning and spiritual guidance are both types of counselling. Just about anyone at all may claim to be a counsellor if they are in the role of giving advice. The term counselling may also properly be used to refer to what occurs in a relationship with a psychotherapist.

In the context of mental health, ‘counselling’ is generally used to denote a relatively brief treatment that is focused most upon behaviour. It often targets a particular symptom or problematic situation and offers suggestions and advice for dealing with it.

‘Psychotherapy’ on the other hand is generally a longer term treatment which focuses more on gaining insight into chronic physical and emotional problems. It's focus is on the patient's thought-processes and way of being in the world rather than specific problems.

In actual practice there may be quite a bit of overlap between the two. A therapist may provide counselling with specific situations and a counsellor may function in a psychotherapeutic manner. Generally speaking, however, psychotherapy requires more skill than simple counselling. It is conducted by professionals trained to practice psychotherapy such as a psychiatrist, a trained counsellor, social worker or psychologist. While a psychotherapist is qualified to provide counselling, a counsellor may or may not possess the necessary training and skills to provide psychotherapy.

By Nancy Schimelpfening (taken from Guide


Updated October 18, 2012