Both psychotherapy and counselling involve a professional listening to you and both should provide a safe, sympathetic, accepting environment in which you can unburden yourself of problems and become better acquainted with your thoughts, feelings and beliefs.

However, precise definitions regarding psychotherapy and counselling may be difficult. The terms are often used interchangeably, there’s overlap between the two and there are different types of counselling just as there are different types of therapy. (When I talk about psychotherapy I’m referring to psychoanalytic/ psychodynamic therapy). There can even be some heat in professional circles concerning the relative status and prestige of counselling and psychotherapy. In practice, however, each approach – done well – requires considerable skill. .

In the broadest possible terms, counselling tends to be about problem-solving. The term ‘counselling’ derives from a word meaning ‘advice’. Analytic psychotherapy, on the other hand, is more about a healing of the actual person. The term ‘psychotherapy’ literally means ‘healing of the inner life/inmost being’. Not infrequently, psychotherapy involves looking at life events that have shaped the structures of a person’s being and personality – especially where they have evolved in unhelpful ways. Hopefully, through exploration, a modification of the personality itself can be brought about. Whilst counsellors will take into account the significance of life events, they may be using this understanding in a slightly different way – to enable problems to be resolved. Of course, all being well, psychotherapy will also lead to an improvement in problems and symptoms but the road to get there may be somewhat different.

Don’t be afraid to ask

It might be helpful to ask any professional with whom you’re considering working about their professional orientation and training so as to get as full a picture as possible.