Alison Hunter Therapy
Counselling, Psychotherapy, Coaching in Glasgow Southside & Online

What's the difference between counselling and psychotherapy?

Deciding to seek therapy when you're struggling, can take a lot of courage. When you're used to telling yourself you can cope and your problems are nothing compared to other peoples', finding yourself looking for a therapist you could possibly trust with the thoughts and feelings you've been working so hard to keep hidden, is quite a moment.

Then when you do attempt to find a therapist, you may well realise it is a quite a minefield trying to navigate around the world of therapy, what qualifications you should be looking for in a person and how to know who may be best for you.

A question I am often asked by clients is what's the difference between counselling and psychotherapy? It is a really relevant question as the two terms are often used interchangeably, when actually there are some significant differences that knowing about could really aid people when going for therapy.

Currently, counsellors are legally allowed to identify as psychotherapists and vice versa. However, the type and length of training that a therapist has undertaken is a big factor in letting you know the capacity a potential therapist has to work with different issues. Counselling training is much more widely available and lasts for 1-2 years depending on whether it is part-time or full-time. This is in contrast to psychotherapy training, which is only offered in some organisations and can take up to 5 years part-time to complete. Psychotherapists in training are required to undergo their own personal therapy, meaning they know what it's like to a be a client and have also spent a considerable amount of time getting to know their own patterns and traits. Therefore psychotherapists have been through a much deeper training, both theoretically and from a personal development aspect. When looking for qualifications that tell you whether someone is a counsellor or psychotherapist, a good rule of thumb is that counsellors will be BACP registered or accredited and psychotherapists will be accredited with UKCP .

Whilst both counselling and psychotherapy refer to 'talking therapies', the type of issues people may be coming with, can help a therapist distinguish whether this is counselling or psychotherapy. For me, counselling centres more on life issues that can affect us all, perhaps a recent bereavement, redundancy or ending of a significant relationship. In such difficult and upsetting situations, it can be of real benefit to talk our experience through with a trained professional and help gain a greater understanding of how we have been affected and what may help us feel more able to cope.

In contrast, psychotherapy is focused more on deeper issues around your sense of self, which may not be consciously linked to any event or current issue. Perhaps you have always found relationships difficult, have experienced trauma, or always feel like you are not good enough. Such ingrained ways of being in the world require a longer term approach to really unpick what is going on and why this has come about. It is then through the building and establishment of a trusting, collaborative relationship with your therapist, that you may be able to understand yourself, others and the world around you differently and more contentedly. Whilst the two approaches do focus on different issues, sometimes counselling can lead to a more psychotherapeutic piece of work, when the initial stresses can lead to a greater awareness of perhaps underlying concerns.

For many of the reasons noted above, counselling generally refers to shorter term work with a client and psychotherapy longer term. Because of this, there is a chance for therapist and client to build a deeper bond during psychotherapy and for their relationship to become more of a feature in the work. What goes on between the therapist and client in the room will reflect other relationships in a client's life and so talking about what may be happening in our relationship and how we are both experiencing it can be really helpful for people in understanding more about their patterns and impact on other people.

When all is said and done though, the most important thing is whether you feel comfortable in a therapist's company and that you might be able to trust them. Once you've looked around for therapists online, it is worthwhile getting a list together of 2-3 potential therapists and arranging to meet with each one before deciding who may be best for you. Therapy is a big commitment, so taking your time to find the right person is an important first step towards making the changes in your life that you want.

My Location

My counselling, psychotherapy and coaching practice in based in the Southside of Glasgow. It is within easy reach of Shawlands, Pollokshields, Giffnock, Newton Mearns and the city centre.

I work with clients both face-to-face and online. Please contact me to discuss what may work best for you.


Counselling and psychotherapy are talking therapies that can help just about everyone, regardless of age, race and gender.
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“I approached the counselling process with a certain level of trepidation and anxiety. However Alison was able to be supportive and reassuring, creating a safe environment. The sessions were undertaken at a pace I felt comfortable with and it was clear Alison was able to respond to my individual situation which was multifaceted. I found the process helpful and beneficial.I would be more than comfortable approaching Alison in the future should the need arise.” Anonymous, Glasgow