by Andrea M. Darcy
You have finally gathered the courage to see a therapist, only to be faced with a confusing array of titles and qualifications you don’t understand.
Just what are the differences between a counsellor and a psychotherapist? How is a psychotherapist different to a counselling psychologist? Or a psychiatrist? And which one is for you?
A psychotherapist is highly trained at talking therapy, the art of professional listening and responding. This means they are specialists at helping you recognise what is bothering you, where your issues might stem from, and how you want to deal with your problems and move forward.
Not all psychotherapists are the same. There are many schools of thought when it comes to therapy, from psychodynamic to existential to Jungian and more. Your psychotherapist will either use one or a blend of approaches, which you can ask them about in your first session.
Psychotherapy helps you to “dig deep” and use your past to find patterns that explain your behaviour and choices in the future. It is very effective to help you with complex issues such as anger management, low self-esteem, and depression.
But it can be equally useful for helping you deal with seemingly less serious things, like relationship issues or money troubles.
Traditionally, psychotherapy tended to be a long term process of six months to several years.
But this has changed with the rise of shorter-term psychotherapies like Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and dynamic interpersonal therapy (DIT).
Psychotherapists cannot prescribe medication. For severe conditions which require a treatment plan they would work together with a psychiatrist to help you.
A psychotherapy degree in the UK is a committed process that generally takes at least four years. Sometimes degrees are 5 years, including an introductory year.
Some trained psychotherapists in the UK choose to call themselves counsellors if they feel it is a friendlier term, showing just how closely related these professions have become.
A counsellor in the UK is in many ways on par with a psychotherapist in that they are as equally trained at professional listening and responding.
Counselling is sometimes seen as less likely to dig deeply into your past and more likely to focus on present day issues you are struggling with.
It’s true that counselling is more likely to be offered than psychotherapy if you want to focus on one particular issue, such as bereavement, addiction, and self-esteem.
That being said, some counsellors do focus on your past more than others, and they are just as able to help you with your life as a whole as a psychotherapist.
It’s also often seen as more short-term than psychotherapy. While some counsellors certainly do offer time limited help, it’s equally possible to work with a counsellor for several years.
If there was a solid difference between psychotherapists and counsellors in the UK it would be one of theoretical framework and training focus. A counselling course generally gives an overview of most kinds of therapeutic thought, but might focus more on practical implications than a psychotherapy course, which might include more theory.
In some cases counsellors might train for a year less than a psychotherapist, with some counselling courses only being three years in length. But this depends on the school your counsellor attended and what theoretical framework they chose to study.
And a counsellor might take additional training or even other degrees. For example, a counsellor might take development courses that see them working quite psychotherapeutically with clients. Or they might take a conversion course that means they are also a psychotherapist, such as a two-year conversion course in child psychotherapy.
In summary, when it comes to the difference between a counsellor or psychotherapist, it is not as cut and dried as you might wish it to be. Still confused about the differences between a psychotherapist and a counsellor? Read our more comprehensive article on the differences between psychotherapy and counselling.
By: Post Memes
A counselling psychologist is again on par with a psychotherapist and counsellor when it comes to highly attuned listening skills and the tools to help you move forward in life.
The difference is that they originally embarked on a psychology degree, the study of the mind and human behaviour.
After receiving their psychology degree, a counselling psychologist would have then decided to go into the practical applications of psychology instead of the research side. This means they continued into a doctorate in counselling psychology.
In general, a counselling psychologist qualification takes five to eight years of education (for more information, read our guide on how to become a counselling psychologist).
Counselling psychologists can help you with the same life issues as a counsellor or psychotherapist. They just have the additional perspective of understanding the scientific and medical viewpoint of certain mental health challenges. which may or may not come in useful when working with you in a clinical setting.
Counselling psychologists cannot prescribe medication. In this way they are similar to psychotherapists and counsellors.
A psychiatrist is someone who originally trained as a doctor then decided to specialise in the dysfunction of the mind and mental disorders (psychiatry). They might even have gone on to then specialise further in a specific kind of psychiatry, such as child psychiatry.
To gain a psychiatry certification takes around 11 years, including a five year program to be a doctor, two years working as a medical trainee, and then six years of specialty training.
Psychiatrists deal largely with syndromes and disorders, such as severe depression, personality disorders, ADHD, panic disorders, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. They assess and diagnose such disorders, and come up with a treatment plan to help. This might include psychological therapy (possibly with another therapist) and medication.
Because they are registered doctors psychiatrists can prescribe medication.
In general, you see a psychiatrist when you have a mental health problem that is extensive and has taken over your life and requires medication to treat. Otherwise, you would book with a psychotherapist, counsellor, or counselling psychologist. If they think you need to see a psychiatrist they will usually let you know and refer you onward.
Differences at a glance
- Acounsellor, psychotherapist, and counselling psychologist are all trained at listening and responding.
- Only a psychiatrist can prescribe medication in the UK.
- If one was to generalise differences in training, it would be:
- psychiatrist = studied the medical and scientific aspect of the mind
- psychologist = studied the research and quantitative aspect of the mind and of behaviour
- psychotherapist = studied the theories of behaviour and history of talking therapies
- counsellor = studied the practical hands-on application of helping with talk therapy.
Should I look for the best academic qualifications?
Academic qualifications are important background information, but do not instantly equal an effective therapist. While you should ask your prospective therapist what their training is, also look at the overall picture.
How long have they been in practise? What sort of issues do they specialise in, and do these coincide with issues you’d like to work on? What sort of therapy do they offer, does it interest you?
Experience matters. You might find a certified counsellor with minimum of ten years experience more suitable for you than a therapist with multiple psychotherapy degrees but only a year or two in practice.
This is why at Harley Therapy we only offer therapists with degrees from renowned institutions as well as a minimum of ten years clinical experience.
Is my therapist “licensed”?
There actually isn’t a licensing board for therapists in the UK. Anyone can claim to be licensed, and it’s up to you to check into their credentials and experience.
What there is, however, are associations that psychotherapists and counsellors with the right education and experience can join.
Does it matter if your counsellor or psychotherapist belongs to an association?
It means they are committed to adhere to the very high ethical standards put forth by associations, which is highly in your favour. So it could be argued that it is perhaps one of the more important factors to consider. At Harley Therapy we only use therapists who are recognised by the UK’s top associations like the BACP and UKCP.
The most important things to keep in mind
Therapy is at heart a relationship between you and your therapist. So education and experience aside, finding a therapist you feel comfortable with is important.
There is no ‘perfect’ therapist, just the one who works for you. Therapists are people, so they come with personalities and quirks. The one that works for you will not necessarily be the one that did wonders for your friend.
There is no formula for therapy. It’s about what happens between you and your therapist. There are so many schools of thought when it comes to therapy nowadays, it’s also about doing the research into these as well and trying different approaches.
Therapy requires you to show up fully. Your results will be just as affected by what you put into it as by how educated and experienced your therapist is.
If it doesn’t work out, you can try another therapist until you find the one who does work for you. But be careful you don’t jump to conclusions – read our article on what to do if you don’t like your therapist first, and also our piece on quitting therapy.
And remember, it’s not about finding the perfect therapist – it’s about starting the journey. Don’t let your confusion about therapists stop you from making the call and booking an appointment.
Harley Therapy provides all kinds of therapists to match your needs including family therapists. Or use our sister booking site to find UK-wide registered therapists.
Andrea M. Darcy is a mental health and wellbeing expert and mentor, who has done some training in person-centred counselling and coaching. She advises people on how to plan their therapy journey to get useful and cost effective results. Find her on Instagram @am_darcy