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What is Counselling and Psychotherapy?


Counselling and psychotherapy are often mentioned together and sometimes used interchangeably, but these terms describe distinct yet related processes in the field of mental health. At ICPPD counselling and psychotherapy are not separate training courses, although appreciated as having different processes when working with clients. IACP, the professional body that accredits ICPPD’s BA in Holistic Counselling and Psychotherapy, also uses counselling and psychotherapy interchangeably. QQI validates our academic programme in line with the counselling and psychotherapy standards for the profession. Upcoming statutory regulations monitored by CORU are expected to separate the profession of counselling and psychotherapy with the introduction of a register for both counsellors and psychotherapists.

Both counselling and psychotherapy can be highly beneficial for individuals who seek to improve their emotional well-being and navigate life’s challenges. But what exactly are they, and how do they differ? In this blog post, we’ll explore the definitions, purposes, and differences between counselling and psychotherapy.

Counselling is a collaborative process where a trained professional, known as a counsellor or therapist, helps a client work through personal, social, or psychological challenges. The primary aim of counselling is to enable the client to identify and manage their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors more effectively. This process can occur in various settings, such as schools, workplaces, or mental health clinics, family resource centres, and other therapy settings.

Psychotherapy, on the other hand, delves deeper into a person’s underlying emotional and mental issues. Also known as talk therapy, psychotherapy involves a therapist working with a client to understand and resolve emotional problems, maladaptive behaviors, and thought patterns. Psychotherapy often addresses long-standing issues and can be conducted individually or in groups, couples, or families.

At ICPPD we offer a four-year BA (Hons) in Holistic Counselling and Psychotherapy. This educational and training programme provides academic challenges to learners in line with the National Framework. This ensures that our learners receive a high-quality education and training qualification. Careful consideration of module content, themes and streams delivered by tutors with appropriate expertise, the level of personal awareness, personal developments personal therapy provides this course, our learners, and graduates with a level of competency to engage with counselling and psychotherapy. Most importantly it provides learners with ethical awareness to know their limitations, when to refer, and to abide by their professional Code of Ethics.

The Goals and Benefits of Counselling and Psychotherapy

Counselling and Psychotherapy share some common goals and benefits, including:

  1. Emotional and mental well-being: Both practices aim to improve the overall emotional and mental well-being of clients by helping them understand, manage, and navigate their emotions and thoughts.
  2. Coping skills: Counselling and psychotherapy equip clients with skills and strategies to cope with life’s challenges, such as stress, grief, or relationship problems.
  3. Personal growth: These practices encourage self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-improvement, empowering clients to lead more fulfilling lives.
  4. Improved relationships: Counselling and psychotherapy help clients enhance their communication and interpersonal skills, which can result in healthier relationships with others.
  5. Resolution of issues: Both processes assist clients in addressing and resolving specific problems or challenges that are negatively impacting their lives.

Differences Between Counselling and Psychotherapy

While counselling and psychotherapy share some similarities, they also differ in several important ways:

  1. Duration: Counselling is typically a shorter process, lasting a few sessions to several months. Psychotherapy, however, may span several months or even years, as it delves deeper into a person’s emotional and mental well-being.
  2. Focus: Counselling often addresses specific, immediate issues, such as coping with stress or managing work-life balance. In contrast, psychotherapy seeks to uncover and address underlying patterns and long-standing issues that may contribute to a person’s emotional and psychological struggles.
  3. Depth: Counselling tends to be more solution-focused and action-oriented, providing clients with tools and strategies to manage specific concerns, although someone grieving loss and bereavement may need to be therapeutically held and listened to. Psychotherapy involves a more in-depth exploration of emotions, thoughts, and behaviors, seeking to understand their root causes and fostering long-lasting change.
  4. Therapeutic approach: Both Counsellors and Psychotherapists employ a variety of techniques and approaches to help clients navigate their challenges, which may include therapeutic models or theories, such as humanistic therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy, and much more to guide their work with clients.

Finding the Right Fit

When choosing between counselling and psychotherapy, consider your individual needs and goals. If you are experiencing situational issues or need help managing daily life stressors, counselling may be the most appropriate choice. However, if you are struggling with deeper emotional or psychological concerns, psychotherapy could be a better fit.

It’s essential to find a mental health professional who aligns with your needs, values, and preferences. Research different therapeutic approaches, read practitioner profiles, and ask for recommendations from friends or healthcare professionals to find a suitable therapist. You may also want to schedule an initial consultation to ensure that the counsellor or psychotherapist is the right fit for you.

Remember that the most important aspect of any therapeutic relationship is trust and rapport with your therapist. You should feel comfortable discussing your concerns and emotions and trust that the mental health professional has your best interests in mind.

Because trainee counsellors and psychotherapists at ICPPD are required to engage in their own personal therapy, they have a deep understanding, empathy, and compassion not only for their own struggles but also for the struggles of their clients. The holistic focus and ethos that is interwoven into our programme at ICPPD appreciates the complexities of being human.

Counselling and psychotherapy are valuable resources for individuals looking to improve their emotional well-being, cope with life’s challenges, and achieve personal growth. While these practices share some similarities, they may differ in terms of duration, focus, depth, and therapeutic approach. Understanding the distinctions between counselling and psychotherapy can help you make an informed decision about which path is best suited for your individual needs and goals. Ultimately, the success of either process hinges on finding the right therapist, building a trusting relationship, and being committed to the journey of self-discovery and personal growth.

ICPPD, with its focus on humanistic principles, values the importance of the therapeutic relationship. Current research supports the therapeutic relationship as a core element of successful counselling and psychotherapy.

The following excerpt from a client to her counsellor/psychotherapist is revealing of the beautiful complex process of counselling/psychotherapy:

“I have appreciated and loved my therapists and my therapy over the years. Thank you for deeply listening to me, for accepting me as I am with my skewed thinking, my deadened or over stimulated emotions, my physical appearance, and my continuous search for meaning and for a spiritual dimension that sits with me, and my life.

You respected my journey at my pace and supported me to listen to my inner landscape and my knowing. You did not make my process of development about you, or your need to achieve a result, as if I was a product to be shaped according to some other design.

Thank you for being there for me, for the consistency you provided. Thank you for holding professional boundaries so I could test my learning and growing. Thank you for your warmth, your encouragement, your support and for not colluding with my idiosyncrasies.

Thank you for taking a risk, when I wanted to use my creative yearnings, curiosity, and imagination as part of my inner expression, and then manifest this in our sessions in your counselling space.

These were healing times that had an impact on me, times that created trust both within myself and our therapeutic relationship and engaged both of us in a shared humanity.

I think this was the language of my soul. These were deep moments of connection both within me and with another human being and the outcome was an ease in my relationship with myself and then with others in my life. 

I am deeply grateful for my experiences and for the space you held for me to – fall into my vulnerability, to re-discover the truth of who I am, to shapeshift and imagine, to get to know, create, develop, and integrate aspects of myself.

I hold myself now, most of the time, with a loving, compassionate presence and kindly embrace my imperfections.”