The words counsellor and psychotherapist are often used interchangeably. At the same time there are various arguments and debates about the differences between a counsellor and a psychotherapist. Some argue that there are many common activities, with little differences; while some argue that there are no differences and can be used interchangeably; while still others are of the opinion that they are completely different.
The Ontario Association of Consultants, Counsellors, Psychometrists and Psychotherapists (OACCPP) defines Counsellor as “a professional whose practice involves the primary function of informing, advising, guiding, educating, and coaching. The practice of counselling includes, but is not limited to, clinical, and mental health counselling. Incorporated in its mandate is guidance and education to individuals, families and/or groups.” Psychotherapy, however, denotes services which provide specialized interventions. It includes techniques utilized by professionals educated in one or more psychotherapy paradigms, such as, for example Gestalt, Transactional Analysis, Reality Therapy, Cognitive Psychotherapy, Adlerien Psychology, Client-centered Psychotherapy, etc.
Counselling is a process which includes psychotherapeutic techniques but is, educational in its aim and shorter in duration. Psychotherapy, on the other hand, encourages understanding of the problem through the generation of insight and the building of trust in the therapeutic relationship. In Ontario, only members of the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario (CRPO) have the authority to identify themselves as Registered Psychotherapists (RPs).
According to Mark Vahrmeyer and Sam Jahara, registered psychotherapists, in their article for ‘Brighton and Hove Psychotherapy’, Counsellor is someone who empathize and listen, deals with lesser complex issues. Some people experience more deep-rooted issues, such, as depression, anxiety. This is where psychotherapists step in. They have in-depth understanding and experience of a range of mental health diagnosis and have had their own personal therapy.
Professor Liz Bondi in her article for COSCA compiles the differences, and concludes that they are drawn upon three main features. Firstly, those who argue that there are some differences in counselling and psychotherapy, emphasize the difference in training. Self-awareness and personal improvement is an essential part of good practice. Secondly, psychotherapy involves a working at a greater depth than counselling. Some argue that psychotherapy sometimes involves longer-term contracts or more frequent sessions as compared to counselling. Lastly, it is a more historic interpretation of the relationship. Psychotherapy began with the arrival and development of psychoanalytic and psychodynamic ideas in the 1920s, joined later by a variety of other approaches, which were developed in the private sector. Psychotherapeutic ideas also influenced other professions and professional training. Counselling services and counselling training began to develop in the 1950s, with both originating in the voluntary sector. In contrast to this, with rare exceptions, psychotherapy services and training have not developed in the voluntary sector.
Irrespective of the differences, both the professions require an attitude of empathy, good-listening skills, patience, sincerity, genuineness, respect, non-judgmental. They are both novel professions in that most people who are struggling mentally, who are hit by a crisis situation, who feel there is no hope, they approach counsellors and psychotherapists as the last straw to finding hope. Counselling and psychotherapy, in their own capacity, guide people in seeing situations from a different perspective and in bringing about necessary changes in improve their lives and mental health.
COSCA Counselling and Psychotherapy in Scotland. (2004, Feb). Retrieved from Counselling and Psychotherapy COSCA’s Description: www.cosca.org.uk/docs/86.doc
Jahara, M. V. (n.d.). Brighton and Hove Psychotherapy . Retrieved from Differences between counselling and psychotherapy: https://www.brightonandhovepsychotherapy.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Differences-between-counselling-and-psychotherapy.pdf
OACCPP. (n.d.). Retrieved from Mental Health Practitioner Designations: http://www.oaccpp.ca/resources/help-with-terminology/