Questions and answers courtesy of Counselling Directory
What is counselling/psychotherapy? Psychotherapy is a broad term used to describe talking therapies, including counselling. Both counsellors and psychotherapists provide a service for those looking for support and treatment for a wide range of mental health and emotional issues. The possibility that there is a difference between counselling and psychotherapy is a heavily debated question in the field of mental health treatment, and one that has yet to be answered. Some claim that counselling tends to tackle problems at the time of the crises, whereas psychotherapy focuses on longer-term psychological problems. However, this is not a universally agreed contention and you are advised to contact professionals personally to find out more about how they work.
Whether you choose a counsellor or psychotherapist, the most important thing is that you choose the right individual for you. How you connect with the counsellor or psychotherapist you choose is likely to determine how successful the treatment is. It is also helpful to have a little knowledge on the different therapies on offer. There are many different therapies that can be used by counsellors and psychotherapists, some involve looking at past relationships and experiences to make sense of them, and others involve looking at the 'here and now'.
What is the difference between a psychiatrist, psychologist, psychotherapist and counsellor? As you may have already noticed, there are many different terms out there to describe professionals working in the mental health industry - each helping in different ways. Understanding the key differences between these professionals and how they can offer support should help you decide which one is right for you if/when you decide to seek help.
Take a look at the following brief descriptions:
Psychiatrist/ Psychiatry is the study of mental disorders, covering diagnosis, management and prevention. A psychiatrist must undergo full medical training as a doctor before choosing to specialise in psychiatry. Once a psychiatrist has become fully trained, they can go on to specialise further in general psychiatry, forensic psychiatry, old age psychiatry, psychiatry of learning disabilities, psychotherapy or child and adolescent psychiatry.
Unlike many other mental health professionals, psychiatrists can assist in medical treatment and testing as they have the appropriate training.
Psychologist/ Psychology is the study of the human mind and the way we think, act and behave. As well as looking at the way our minds work in day-to-day life, psychologists are also interested in mental health conditions. The title of psychologist can be given to someone who has completed a degree in psychology, however there are other titles in psychology that are protected by law (such as clinical psychologist).
Most psychologists fall into one of two camps - they are either research-oriented (meaning they spend time studying the way the mind works to better our understanding) or applied (meaning they apply their skills to patients).
Psychotherapist/ Psychotherapy is a term used to describe a range of talking therapies and covering the approaches and methods used within each type. It is this broad usage which has led some professionals to use the titles psychotherapist and counsellor interchangeably. When we talk about a psychotherapist, we are talking about a professional who works with clients to help them overcome a range of emotional, social and mental health issues through talk therapies.
As it stands the title psychotherapist is not regulated by law. There are however, variations of the title which are regulated/protected by industry bodies (such as registered psychotherapist) and which generally indicate a high level of training.
Counsellor/ Counselling will use psychotherapy to help clients develop understanding and insight into their behaviours/feelings, with the aim of overcoming difficulties. In some cases the simple act of talking through difficulties with a counsellor can help the client, in other cases a more tailored therapy approach is required. This will depend on the nature of the concern and will be assessed by the counsellor. Similarly to psychotherapist, the term counsellor is not currently regulated by law - so you are advised to check a counsellor's experience and training to ensure they are suitably qualified.
What are the different therapies used? Psychological therapies generally fall into three categories. These are behavioural therapies, which focus on cognitions and behaviours, psychoanalytical and psychodynamic therapies, which focus on the unconscious relationship patterns that evolved from childhood, and humanistic therapies, which focus on looking at the 'here and now'. This is a generalisation though and counselling and psychotherapy usually overlaps some of these techniques.
How do I know if I need counselling/psychotherapy? Only you can decide whether you wish to try counselling or psychotherapy. Just talking to someone confidentially who is not a friend or family member can make all the difference. Counselling or psychotherapy provides a regular time for those in distress to explore their feelings and talk about their problems. A counsellor can help you develop better ways of coping, allowing you to live the life you deserve.
How many people in the UK have counselling or psychotherapy? The figures are uncertain, however, the number of qualified counsellors has tripled in the last 10 years to keep up with demand. There are millions of people all over the world affected by mental health problems. Those who do not experience some form of mental distress at some time during their lives are probably fairly unusual and extremely lucky.
Are counsellors or psychotherapists regulated? Counsellors and psychotherapists are not currently regulated in the UK.
How can I be assured of a practitioners' professionalism? If you are wary about visiting a counsellor or psychotherapist we would suggest choosing one who is a member of a professional body.
What is a professional body? There are various professional bodies (also known as member organisations) in existence that have taken on the role of self-regulation of counselling/psychotherapy. Whilst counsellors and psychotherapists are under no legal obligation to become a member of a professional body, membership will mean they have met certain requirements set by their professional body and must abide by a code of ethics and complaints procedure. Examples are the BACP, NCS, GHReg, CNHC
What is registration/accreditation with a professional body? Registered / Accredited - Being registered/accredited with a professional body means an individual must have achieved a substantial level of training and experience approved by their member organisation. You will be able to see which counsellors are registered/accredited with their professional body as they may display organisation logos.
What training, qualifications and experience should counsellors and psychotherapists have? There are currently no laws in the UK regarding counselling and psychotherapy. However guidelines recommend that, in order to practice, counsellors should have completed at least an appropriate diploma, or completed a course that was a minimum of 400 hours therapy training.
How long does each counselling session last? Each session will usually last 50 minutes or one hour depending on your chosen counsellor or psychotherapist. However this is often flexible and should be discussed with your therapist before attending the first session.
How regularly will I see my counsellor or psychotherapist? Many counsellors and psychotherapists offer weekly sessions, however this can vary depending on the type of therapy and your personal requirements.
Do I have to pay for counselling sessions? Counsellors and psychotherapists as private therapists will usually charge for sessions. Some counsellors and psychotherapists may offer initial sessions free or reductions for the unemployed or those on a low income, so it's always worth asking. If you go to your GP, school or a charitable organisation, some sessions are often free of charge, but you will need to check this with them directly the waiting time for these however can be quite long.
How do I know which counsellor or psychotherapist to choose? Counselling Directory lists many counsellors and psychotherapists from all over the UK and deciding which to choose may seem daunting. Read our 'Find' section on the not sure where to start? page.
Can I have telephone or online counselling? Lots of counsellors and psychotherapists offer online and telephone counselling if you'd rather not see them face to face. To search for a counsellor or psychotherapist offering this service, use our online and telephone search. How can I stay safe online? From cyber-bullying to online fraud, the Internet can be both a scary and risky environment. For tips and information about how to navigate the web safely, visit our fact-sheet on how to stay safe online.
Do counsellors offer any seminars, workshops or events? Many counsellors and psychotherapists offer seminars, workshops and events and would encourage you to go along.
I'm worried about someone else - how do I talk about mental health? If you're worried about someone else's mental health then you're probably wondering what you can do to help. It can be very difficult to talk about mental health and suggest counselling, so we've created a page with tips on how to handle this sensitive subject. Visit worried about someone else? now to find out more.