Counselling and psychotherapy are both ways in which someone may work with you to achieve a positive change in your life. They are related, but there are significant differences that you may find helpful to understand.
I am trained as both a counsellor and a psychotherapist, which lets me use the most appropriate approach depending on where you are now and what it is that you are trying to achieve – if you know. If you don’t, that’s OK, as part of our work together will be to consider that aspect.
The terms counselling and psychotherapy are sometimes used quite loosely, but it’s really important that the person you work with is properly trained and accredited. The qualifications are separate, with psychotherapy usually requiring longer or additional training.
Sharing how you feel in a safe, secure environment with someone who is independent of family and friends can be really helpful. So it’s also important that you’re comfortable with where and when your sessions take place.
Counselling is usually considered as a ‘talking therapy’. Properly done, it allows people to discuss their problems and feelings in a safe, confidential environment. While it can mean different things to different people, in general counselling is what people seek when they want to change something in their lives, or simply explore their thoughts and feelings in more depth.
As a counsellor, I am not there to tell you what to do. Instead, we look at the issues together and come up with a plan of action to help you achieve your goal(s), reconcile your concerns or find ways of coping. My role is to support you through this process.
Counselling is usually relatively short term, lasting anything from 6 weeks to 6 months. It tends to be quite goal orientated, but only really works if you make a commitment to attend scheduled weekly sessions.
Psychotherapy helps you to explore problems and develop an awareness of how the past may be having an impact on your life, building your awareness and insight.
The initial stages of psychotherapy are similar to counselling. We explore what's bothering you in order to uncover any root causes and also seek to identify your own specific ways of thinking.
Everyone faces options about what they do and how they relate to others – and to themselves. Through psychotherapy, I can support your ability to choose among these. If you want to make changes, we’ll explore the different tools and skills you can use. This work usually lasts longer than counselling as it takes time to consider and act on long-held beliefs about yourself, and it can be more open-ended.
My therapeutic approach is based on Transactional Analysis (TA). TA is formally described as “a theory of human personality, a theory of social behaviour, and a comprehensive system of psychotherapy” [International Transactional Analysis Association]. However, TA concepts are easy to explain and understand. They are particularly useful in counselling – and also helpful in day-to-day life.
TA was developed by Eric Berne (1910-1970), a doctor and psychiatrist who had been studying to become a psychoanalyst. Using some of Freud's ideas, he developed his innovative and accessible therapeutic approach.
Berne focused on looking for positive change in his patients. His 1964 book Games People Play sold over 6 million copies, while another related book I'm OK - You're OK by Thomas Harris, one of his founding group, sold over 10 million copies. Over the years, there has been a great deal of new writing and thinking about TA internationally and it has proved to be an effective basis for psychotherapy.
You don't have to choose whether to opt specifically for counselling or psychotherapy - the appropriate approach is something we will work out between us.