Visiting a Counselor vs. Psychotherapist

What is the Difference Between Psychotherapy and Counselling?

Visiting a Counselor vs. Psychotherapist

A counsellor or a psychotherapist – which one do you need? It’s one of the most popular questions asked when people decide to seek therapy.

The truth is that it’s rather a grey areawhen it comes to counselling and psychotherapy in the UK. Whereas in some countries the United States there is a definite difference between psychotherapy and counselling, in Britain there is a definite overlap in both training and practice.

The professional accrediting bodies for therapists in the UK show how closely related these professions are, with one even called the British Association for Counsellors and Psychotherapists (BACP). The other professional body, the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP), is welcoming of “Psychotherapeutic counsellors” as members.

Therapists themselves can have varying ideas on what the difference is, and there are therapists who are qualified as and see themselves as both. Some therapists with a psychotherapy degree might even choose to call themselves counsellors as they feel it’s a less intimidating term.

*note that this article pertains to the definitions of counselling and psychotherapy in the United Kingdom. If you are reading this article from outside of the UK refer to your country’s version of these two qualifications.

What kind of help do you need? You can choose from counselling or psychotherapy at


Counselling is a term that can be used to describe any sort of talking therapy. What is talk therapy? Sharing what is troubling you in a safe, supportive environment to a person who is trained to listen and respond in a way that helps you to understand yourself and others better. Talking therapies help you find more effective ways to live a satisfying life.

All forms of talk therapy are a sort of counselling. But the term is most often used to describe the talk therapies which focus on your behaviour patterns. These are the choices and actions you are presently taking that are causing your life to be as it is.

Counselling might reference your past. Butin general counselling’s focus is on helping you with what you are experiencing right now.

Counselling is often what is called ‘time-limited’ or ‘short-term’. In other words, you decide with your therapist during the first meeting how many sessions you will work together, which can be anywhere from 12 to 24 weeks or more. Because it’s shorter term, counselling can be quite structured, with an agenda laid out in advance.

The issues that counselling most often deals with arethe things a client is currently feeling stressed by, whether that is the challenges they are facing on a daily basis at home or work or its a traumatic circumstance such as a breakup, divorce, or bereavement. Counselling can also help with things confidence issues and addictions.

Counselling can be done not just as an individual but also as a couple, family, or group.

The forms of talk therapy that are usually referred to as ‘counselling’ in the UK include:


counselling, psychotherapy describes different talking therapies where you share what is troubling you and are listened to and supported in finding ways forward. Psychotherapy, too, looks at your behavioural patterns that are causing you distress in your daily life.

But psychotherapy also works to help you have a deep understanding of your emotions by looking at your past. It questions how what you experienced as a child and young adult affected you in ways that might still be causing you issues now.

Psychotherapy aims to find the very roots and beginnings of your issues and challenges, not just how to manage them now.

Some sorts of psychotherapy also dive very deeply into exploration of self, looking at questions of identity and beliefs.

While counselling might have you asking, what can I do and change to feel better, psychotherapy might also find you asking, who am I? How did I become this person? And who do I really want to be, deep down?

Psychotherapy tends to be long-term, which can mean anything from six months to several years.

That said, there are some newer offshoots in psychotherapy which are shorter versions of longer psychotherapy models. The short-term forms of psychotherapy can be quite structured, certain forms of counselling. Long-term forms of psychotherapy tend to work with what comes up each session without any imposed format or overall plan for the direction of your therapy.

The issues that psychotherapy deals with runs a very wide gamut. counselling, it can help with present issues stress, relationship issues, bereavement, sexual problems, and addictions.

It also deals with mental health challenges depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders and PTSD, personality disorders OCD and avoidant personality disorder.

And psychotherapy doesn’t just focus on present issues but also on past issues, such as childhood traumas abuse and neglect.

Psychotherapy can also be done in a couple, as a family, or as a group.

The forms of talk therapy that are usually referred to as ‘psychotherapy’ in the UK include:

Shorter forms of psychotherapy include:

Counselling vs psychotherapy

  • Both explore feelings, beliefs, and thoughts.
  • Both focus on creating a safe, supportive environment.
  • Both help you understand yourself better.
  • Both help you understand others better.
  • Both help you make better choices and move forward in life.
  • Both involve working with a therapist with at least three years of training.


  • counselling is more ly to be action and behaviour focused
  • counselling is more ly to be short-term
  • counselling is more ly to focus on your present issues over past issues
  • psychotherapy tends to go on longer than a round of counselling sessions
  • psychotherapy is more ly to be in-depth than counselling
  • psychotherapy is more ly to explore the past as well as the present
  • psychotherapy is more ly to explore childhood root issues instead of just behavioural patterns
  • psychotherapy means your therapist has at least four years of training
  • psychotherapy can deal with deep mental health problems and disorders that have developed over a long period of time

The above proposed similarities and differences aside, it’s still a murky world when it comes to comparing psychotherapy with counselling. A counsellor might work very deeply in a way that seems psychotherapeutic. A psychotherapist might offer counselling as part of a bigger treatment plan.

The only definite, watertight answer for what is the exact difference between a psychotherapist and a counsellor is it depends on what training program and theoretical approach your therapist has chosen for themselves. Was their training program called counselling, or psychotherapy?

So do I need a counsellor, or a psychotherapist?

Although psychotherapy training is a year or two longer than counselling therapy in the UK, more years of training do not necessarily a better therapist make.

Plus, most counsellors and psychotherapists take additional training on top of their original certification.

They are also required in the UK to invest in a certain amount of hours of Continued Professional Development (CPD) each year.

The therapist that is right for you will be the one that suits your personality, needs, and issues.

So perhaps the question is less, do I need a counsellor or psychotherapist, and more, what sort of therapy and therapist works for me?

Do I want a short term therapy that mostly focuses on my thoughts and actions (CBT), short term therapy that looks mostly at my relationships (Dynamic interpersonal therapy or Cognitive analytical therapy), therapy where I decide the agenda (Person-centred), or therapy that leads me to deeply explore all that I am (Existential psychotherapy)? Do I want a male or female therapist, someone who is very gentle or a bit firm, someone with a sense of humour or someone quiet and reserved?

What sort of therapy you need is also affected by whether you’ve already done other forms of therapy.

If you have done years of psychotherapy in the past and have a strong understanding of yourself, you might just need a round of action-focussed counselling.

Whereas if you have never tried therapy before and have troubles resolving problems, a more open-ended therapy that helps you understand yourself deeply and build self confidence might be life changing.

Don’t forget that you don’t marry your therapist! If you try a counsellor or psychotherapist and they aren’t right for you, you have every right to be honest with them and then try someone else.

Terminology aside, what really matters is that you get the support you need and make that first step of booking an appointment with a therapist with Harley Therapy’s London clinics.

If you are based outside of London or would online counselling, you can visit our sister site to find and book a registered, professional therapist in minutes.

It will undoubtedly be journey of self-discovery and healing for you, regardless of what your therapist calls him or herself.

Something you’d to say about the difference between psychotherapy and counselling? Comment below.

Photos by Shot By Susan, Department of Foreign Affairs Australia, Andes Survivor, and Torbak Hopper

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Counselor vs Therapist: What’s The Difference And Which Is Best For You?

Visiting a Counselor vs. Psychotherapist

The differences between counselors, therapists and psychologists can be confusing, and finding the right professional is essential to finding the right care.

You may be looking for group therapy with your family, spouse, or peers, individual therapy to address obstacles in your life, or clinical therapy to address a disorder through medication.

When it comes to counselors vs therapists, what’s the difference and which is best for you? This information can help you decide.

Counselor vs Therapist: What’s Different? What’s Similar?

Professionals who provide guidance, support, and treatment for mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders or obstacles are generally classified under three terms: counselors, therapists, and psychologists.

Some of these terms are used interchangeably in conversation, though they are not technically the same.

The main differences between counselors vs therapists are in their licenses, experience, education, and approaches to treatment.

Since licensing and education significantly contribute to the differences between counselors vs therapists vs psychologists, their roles and definitions may vary from state to state.

In Michigan, each professional’s unique role is best defined by the relevant regulatory body, such as the Michigan Board of Counseling for counselors or the Michigan Board of Marriage and Family Therapy for therapists.

In other areas, requirements and licensing may be set by different regulatory bodies. These are usually State Boards of; Certified Counselors, Social Work, Marital and Family Therapy, and Psychology. If you’re wondering about the education and experience of professionals in your state, this is a good place to start.

Who is best for you?

Though different counselors, therapists, psychologists and other experts may have different levels or types of education, this is not necessarily the best indicator of a good therapy relationship.

The best way to find a professional who is best for you is to ask about their experience and treatment approach.

One therapist or counselor might simply have a personality or treatment approach that works better for you, regardless of their credentials or title.

Remember that it is okay to stop therapy or counseling if you don’t feel that the relationship is right for you, but keep in mind it may take time to find a good fit. With a phone consultation or with your first or second session, you’ll usually know what to expect and you’ll be able to gauge whether or not the therapist, counselor, or psychologist is right for you.


In Michigan, a counselor refers to a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC).

An LPC must have a master’s or doctoral degree in counseling, including classes in counseling techniques, counseling theories, group techniques, research, multicultural counseling, and more.

An LPC can provide many types of therapy and work with individuals and groups. An LPC can obtain additional certifications to provide treatment for other disorders such as addiction treatment programs.

A counselor can treat any of the following issues, among others;

  • Family and marital problems
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Uncontrolled anger
  • Low self-esteem
  • Life transition obstacles
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Loss and grief
  • Behavioral issues in children and teens


Some counselors and therapists use these terms interchangeably for the comfort of their patients. A patient may be more comfortable with the word “counseling” over “therapy.” The title “therapist” may refer specifically to a marriage and family therapist.

In Michigan, this professional would be certified by the Michigan Board of Marriage and Family Therapy. Marriage and family therapists must also obtain either a master’s or doctoral degree, however their studies focus more on family and group therapy and methodology.

A marriage and family therapist may provide;

  • Couples therapy
  • Marriage counseling
  • Family therapy for parents and children
  • Therapy for truant or struggling teens
  • Group therapy for work situations
  • Group therapy for children

A therapist might also refer to a psychotherapist or psychoanalyst. This professional works with individuals, but uses a slightly different type of treatment compared to a counselor, which we’ll discuss more later in the post.

Psychologist or Psychiatrist

A psychologist is similar to a therapist and counselor, but generally works with more serious conditions. Licensed by the Michigan Board of Psychology, psychologists must have a doctoral degree in psychology from an approved institution.

Psychologists may also be specialized in research or academia. Psychologists must have a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy degree) in psychology or a PsyD (Doctor of Psychology degree). There are slight differences between each of these degrees.

Counselors, therapists, and other professionals might also hold these degrees.

A psychologist requires an additional Medical Doctor (MD) degree to prescribe medication to treat mental or emotional disorders, and in this case may be called a psychiatrist.

While a psychiatrist can prescribe medications themselves, counselors or therapists without an MD may make a recommendation to your general practitioner instead, or another medical expert you see.

Either of these methods can be effective for you.

Social Workers

A Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) may also provide counseling and therapy similar to the previous occupations.

A LCSW may work with individuals, families or children, and generally works as a liaison between them and a government agency. A LCSW may be particularly concerned with the welfare of children or another pressing issue.

This occupation requires similar licensure, training, education and experience as a therapist and counselor.


When comparing a counselor vs therapist in their treatment approach, counselors generally treat each person and their situation individually, and provide coping strategies that best suit their needs and personality.

For example, a counselor may help a client practice cognitive behavioral therapy to treat anxiety, depression, anger, and other disorders or difficult emotions.

If group therapy is a constructive option, such as for families or couples, the counselor may mediate role-playing situations.

Though this is not always the case, a counselor generally places more emphasis on treating or coping with negative behaviors, and developing strategies for living a constructive and positive lifestyle.

Unless it is essential to the treatment or a patient has asked to discuss it, a counselor will probably not delve into childhood experiences or how a mental or emotional challenge began.

A counselor generally does not practice psychoanalysis, though counselors use other treatment approaches and strategies that therapists might also use.


A marriage or family therapist focuses more on group dynamics and interpersonal relationships. Though individual obstacles such as anxiety or depression may be addressed, the therapist will ly focus on treating these struggles in the context of the relationship. For example, a couple working through issues with trust may have to address one or both partners’ anxiety first.

A psychotherapist, by contrast, generally works with individuals, and may place more emphasis on getting to the root cause or start of a problem. While a psychotherapist also focuses on treating and coping with problematic mental or emotional challenges, this type of therapist might also explore childhood events, upbringing, and parenting to see how the challenge began.


A psychologist or, with an MD, a psychiatrist generally focuses on the individual’s needs and care in order to achieve a safe and comfortable lifestyle. Since psychologists and psychiatrists often treat serious disorders, there may be special focus on preventing potentially dangerous behaviors and integrating successfully with peers.

Social Worker

A Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) generally works with the government, and is concerned with harm to an individual, usually a child.

This professional may use talk therapy and other techniques that counselors and therapists use, however their goal will most ly be to determine the welfare of the patient.

They may also look into an individual’s or family’s lifestyle and home environment, and speak with multiple family members.

Counselor vs Therapist: Which Should You Choose?

When choosing between a counselor vs therapist for yourself or a loved one, it’s important to consider your goals and expectations for therapy. If you want to strengthen your relationship with a loved one or work through a specific problem, it’s best to work with a professional who specializes in couples or family therapy, and this may be a counselor or a therapist.

If you are seeking individual therapy to cope with stress, grief, anxiety, depression, or similar obstacles, a counselor specializing in these disorders will ly be the best fit for you. If you or a loved one is struggling with a disorder which seriously affects their lifestyle or endangers themselves or others, a psychologist or psychiatrist may offer the best type of care.

At Michigan Counseling Centers, we are the experts in resolving any issue that might be causing you discomfort. We currently offer counseling services in Bloomfield Hills and Taylor, and plan to expand our services to other communities.

To inquire about or receive treatment, please contact us and we will follow up with you to schedule an initial consultation. 


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