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Counselling vs Psychotherapy

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Article by Australia Counselling

How is Counselling Different from Psychotherapy?


The terms counselling and psychotherapy are interchangeable, but when you break it down, they actually refer to different therapeutic processes.

The important thing to know is all psychotherapists are trained in counselling, but not all counsellors are trained in psychotherapy.

Let me explain it to you so it's clearer.

What is counselling?

As a general rule, counselling is considered the process of dealing with a specific problem or issue. It is often considered shorter term work that finishes when the issue is resolved.

For example, if a student is struggling with bullying, they may work with the school counsellor, who may also work with other children involved or the student's family members until the issue of bullying is resolved. Once the issue is resolved, the student would most likely cease working with the school counsellor.

What is psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy often refers to the process of working in a deeper way with issues unresolved from a person’s past or their family of origin. Psychotherapy is also a therapeutic approach used when someone wants to bring about long term change in their personality, character or relationships.

Psychotherapy tends to be longer due to the nature of change. Long-term sustainable change does take time to bring about and often can’t be achieved in a short amount of sessions.

If a client has been abused in their childhood, their trauma may run deep and psychotherapy would help the person deal with their wounds from the past and discover their innate strengths to help them move forward and create the life they want.

What about relationship counselling and relationship therapy?

When it comes to relationships, you can have relationship counselling or relationship therapy and the terms often mean the same thing.

Some couples might go to relationship counselling for a very specific problem. For example, a couple may wish to find a way to resolve a specific conflict and the relationship counselling will help them resolve this specific issue.

Another couple might have long standing issues related to a betrayal early in their relationship. In this situation, the couple will need relationship therapy because it will require some deep emotional work to heal this pain. It may also need each partner to understand more about their own personal histories and how they are playing out in their current relationship to bring about long-term change in their relationship.

Don’t get hung up on the language

The bottom line here is don’t get too hung up on whether a therapist’s services are described as counselling or psychotherapy. They are often interchangeable, but you may want to make sure your therapist is trained in psychotherapy rather than just counselling.

In some countries, like Australia, it is possible to call yourself a professional counsellor after only doing a one-year diploma in counselling. The counselling profession is self-regulated in Australia, so this means your counsellor may not have as much experience as a psychotherapist who has done many years of training.

If you’re unsure, ask your potential therapist what their qualifications are and how many years they trained for. Ask them if they are a psychotherapist or a counsellor and make sure they are listed with a professional association to ensure they practice by following an ethical code of conduct.

If you’re looking for a counsellor or psychotherapist in Australia, you can find a therapist at


30 Aug 2015

Article/Information supplied by Australia Counselling

Disclaimer - Any general advice given in any article should not be relied upon and should not be taken as a substitute for visiting a qualified medical Doctor.