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What is the difference between Psycotherapy and Counselling?

This is something I get asked a lot, and it is a very good question and one where there is unfortunately no simple answer! However, it seems important to try to answer in a market where technically at present, anybody can refer to themselves as a ‘Psychotherapist’ or ‘Counsellor’.


Though both are talking therapies, and in practice Counselling and Psychotherapy can look similar, there are key differences in the thinking and process, as well as the level of training required.


There is movement towards clarity with the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP), the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), and the British Psychoanalytic Council (BPC) currently working together to produce the SCoPEd Framework - a map of the existing competences, standards, training and practice requirements within counselling and psychotherapy. A visual representation exists below (with UKCP Psychotherapists, including myself, sitting within Column C).

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More information about the framework can be found on the BACP and UKCP websites.

Essentially, the training to become a UKCP registered psychotherapist is at postgraduate level and covers a four to five-year period. A significant number of personal therapy hours, supervision hours, client hours, CPD hours, and academic hours and assignments, are required to qualify. Counselling on the other hand, often spans two years. The BACP is the main register for counsellors.


Counsellors generally work at a more immediate level, focusing on a current issue that is affecting the client. Psychotherapists on the other hand think and work at a deeper level, considering how the structure of the client’s process and personality might be affecting their experience of relationships and being in the world. Psychotherapists are trained to formulate – to diagnose according to their approach to therapy.


In short, you may meet many counsellors who call themselves psychotherapists, but no psychotherapists who call themselves counsellors. If a clinician is a BACP member and not a UKCP member, then it is a fair assumption that they are a counsellor.

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