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Counsellor or Psychotherapist - what's the difference?

What is the difference between a counsellor and psychotherapist?

Though the denominations of counsellor and psychotherapist are often used interchangeably, the consensus is that a psychotherapist is qualified to work with a wider range of clients and offer more in-depth work.

Though counselling and psychotherapeutic work may often overlap, one could say that while a psychotherapist is able to provide counselling, a counsellor may not possess the required training and skills to provide psychotherapy.

The key differences between the two professions can be identified in the following areas:

Type of Service Provided

Counselling work is usually short-term only (i.e 8 sessions), while psychotherapeutic work, though it can also be short-term, traditionally takes longer, depending on the client goals.

Training Requirements

There are two governing bodies in the UK which issue guidelines to counsellors and psychotherapists for training and professional standards - the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) and The United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP).

Duration of Training

To register with the BACP an individual must have completed a counselling or psychotherapy course that is a minimum of one year full-time or two years part-time with a supervised placement that is a minimum of one hundred hours.

To gain UKCP membership takes an average of five years of both theory (including a Master’s level university degree in psychotherapy) and skills training, with at least four hundred and fifty hours of supervised work with clients. Depending on the university training, a placement within a psychiatric institution is recommended, though not required.

Personal Therapy

The BACP does not require that a counsellor or psychotherapist undertake their own personal therapy, while the UKCP requires that its members undergo personal therapy for the full duration of their training.

Always look to see if the person claiming to be a counsellor or psychotherapist is registered with either the BACP or UKCP or that they are in the process of completing a level of training that enables them to do so.

And what about psychologists and counselling psychologists?

Psychologist training focuses on carrying out research. A counselling psychologist would have followed a psychologist training including two years of counselling training.

Useful Links UKCP – United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy

BACP – British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy


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