What is Psychotherapy and Counselling?

The most frequently asked question I receive is what is the difference between psychiatry, psychology, psychotherapy and counselling? I have developed a short summary below which I hope will be useful:

Psychotherapy is a talking therapy and focuses on a broad range of issues. It is made up of many therapy approaches. The underlying ethos is that an individual’s ways of thinking and the subconscious awareness affect the way that person interacts with the world. The aim is to uncover those patterns and become aware of their impact and then learn new, healthier ways to establish a relationship with themselves and others. Psychotherapy is longer term as it allows for deeper exploration into the individual’s world. This time allows the therapist to make connections between past and present that ultimately help clients to gain a greater understanding of themselves.

Counselling focuses on specific issues and/or a particular problem, such as addiction, anxiety or stress management. The focus may be on problem solving or learning specific coping skills and techniques. There is also exploration of the individual in order for them to gain self awareness, however this is not as in-depth as in psychotherapy.Psychotherapy and counselling are used interchangeably. Both counselling and psychotherapy focus on the relationship between the therapist and client which form part of the therapeutic process.

Psychology itself is not a talking therapy. It is the study of human behavior, including thoughts, feelings and motivation. Psychologists focus on how the mind works and can specialise in a number of areas, such as mental health, educational and occupational psychology. Psychologists are not usually medically qualified and generally do not work with clients. They can formulate diagnoses but cannot prescribe medication. Psychologists need to specialise or study further to offer talking therapy. They would usually qualify as counselling psychologists.

Psychiatry is the study of mental disorders and their diagnosis, management and prevention. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have qualified in psychiatry. They can diagnose as well as prescribe medication to their patients. They also recommend patients to attend talking therapies as generally they do not do this themselves.

Further information from the BACP