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What is the Difference Between a Counsellor and a Therapist?

The terms ‘counsellor’ and ‘therapist’ are often used interchangeably by organisations, public bodies and individuals, and there is an ongoing debate within the field around how and whether these terms can be formally defined and differentiated. In addition, practitioners themselves may use both terms to describe their profession or may simply have a personal preference regarding which term they use to describe their practice. It’s important to note that neither of these approaches are incorrect.

Ultimately, both types of professionals are there to help people work through their mental health problems and aid mental health recovery. However, there are some individual features of counselling and therapy, that may be considered to be differences between the two.

counsellor vs therapist

Approaches and Techniques of Therapy and Counselling

There are many types of therapy and counselling techniques a specialist may take interest in. Counselling is usually associated with broader counselling approaches and counsellors may receive training within one or a number of these wider approaches. These approaches include:

  • Person-centred
  • Humanistic
  • Getstalt
  • Bereavement counselling

On the other hand, therapy may be more commonly associated with specific psychotherapeutic techniques, such as:

  • cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT),
  • Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT),
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
  • Cognitive analytic therapy (CAT)

Therapists may have specialised in using a specific therapeutic technique (e.g. CBT) and therefore, may label themselves specifically as a cognitive behavioural therapist, for example.

What can Therapy and Counselling Treat?

Therapy may be more likely than counselling to be used to treat diagnosed mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). This is because therapy is evidence-based and formulation-driven, and in many cases, has been specifically designed to treat certain mental illnesses.

On the other hand, counselling may be more commonly used to treat other presenting issues that aren’t necessarily diagnosed mental illnesses. These might include things like bereavement and grief counselling, relationship counselling, building coping strategies, and support with other issues such as low self-esteem. These issues may be considered to be related to the general ‘ups and downs’ of life, although this isn’t to say that they are any less significant than formal mental health conditions.

What will a Therapy/Couselling Session Focus on?

In counselling, you’re more likely to focus on the short term ‘here and now’ and find ways to manage your current issues and feelings. Your counsellor will typically assess how you’re feeling in the present moment and how this is affecting your wellbeing on a day-to-day basis.

During therapy, as well as having an awareness of the ‘here and now’, you’re also more likely to explore the ‘back story’ to your problems in order to get to the root cause of these. This will enable you to understand how your past experiences may have influenced the way you’re feeling, challenge the way you respond to these, and move forwards.

What Training will a Therapist or Counsellor Receive?

It could be said that most practitioners in the field start off with a broader counselling approach as their initial training. They may then add further, more focused training to their skillset, which may include psychotherapy training such as CBT, DBT, or the other approaches mentioned above. At this point, they may begin to identify themselves as more of a therapist or psychotherapist.

Therefore, a therapist may have undertaken more technique-specific training than a counsellor, but that’s not to say they have better experience than a counsellor – it’s simply more likely to be focused in a certain area or areas.

Who Should I see – a Counsellor or a Therapist?

When it comes to deciding whether you should see a therapist or a counsellor, ultimately, the most important factor to look for is whether the individual is appropriately trained and adheres to codes of ethics and professional boundaries. At Priory, we employ registered and accredited counsellors and therapists across the UK, and we ensure that each and every one of these professionals meet this criteria.

In regards to your specific needs and the condition/issues you’re struggling with, our friendly team will be able to find out more information about what you’re going through and use this to advise on the most appropriate specialist for your needs. 

Ultimately, if you’re struggling with your mental health or would like to talk to a professional about things that are going on in your life, it’s really important that you seek support. At Priory, whether you see a therapist or a counsellor, we have the expertise to help you to overcome your issues and get back on track.

Online Therapy and Assessments

If you are unable to see a therapist or counsellor in person, you may want to consider online therapy as another option. With our online therapy service, you can still benefit from the same high-quality, personalised support whenever and wherever is most convenient for you.

Get in Touch Today

For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding mental health and wellbeing, please call 0800 840 3219 or click here to submit an enquiry form. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here

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