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.
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.
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 .
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.
The Stages of Change
With change being so present in therapy, thinking about the stages of change and where a client may sit within it at any one time can be a helpful guide in therapy.
In his book, Changing for Good, James Prochaska outlines six stages of change. They are as follows:
Pre-contemplation (What problem? I don’t know what you’re talking about!) In which people don’t want to admit that they have a problem and even avoid any consideration of the subject. Some people stay in this stage of change for a long time and often experience growing problems. This difficult stage is often called “denial”.
Contemplation (I want to change . . but then, I don’t) Which is probably where you are if you have read this far. You may well have mixed emotions about either changing or doing nothing about the problem. Here you at least become aware of your problems, struggle to understand them and even may think seriously about solving them.
Preparation (I know I have to, but how?) Here is where you start to make decisions. While some people become chronic contemplators and substitute more and more analysis for action, others will make decisions and prepare for them. At this stage, your personal outlook will start to reach more toward your future and less toward your past.
Action(Now I’ve got the bull by the horns!) OK, this is where you take the plunge! But there is no “magic bullet”, and there is no easy way to change. At this point you are very much on your own. You need all the helping relationships you can get, but be prepared, you may even get some disapproval from others, and experience some anxiety and anger. Just review all the things you have established in your contemplation and preparation stages and stick to them.
Maintenance (Got to stay with it!) You have considered and planned and decided to change your life and leave part of it behind. Yet it can be really difficult to stick with the changes you have made. Therefore this stage needs plans and goals like all the others, you treat lapsing back into familiar patterns as just a temporary delay in forward progress and something that you can learn from. And you have the anchor of all your well-planned contemplation and preparation to rely on.
Termination One day you will be able to look back and feel really good about your courage and determination in making the changes in your life.
Negotiating the Screen Time Minefield
Perhaps one of the biggest parenting challenges of the 21st century, it's hard to escape the fears around the amount of screen time children have and the possible impact of this in the future.
Given its ever increasing and changing presence in our lives, it can be really difficult for parents to know how to handle their children’s digital lives. Here are some of my tips for a happier relationship with tech in your home:
Limit screen time There's varying advice on the amount of appropriate screen time for different ages, though the Changing for Good (AAP) suggests 1-2 hours of tech a day is enough for children.
Be aware of your own behaviour Parents set the model within a family, so if you want your children to lessen their dependence on screens, you need to do the same. When you do need to look at something on the internet, say ‘I’m just going to check the bus timetable’ or ‘I’m texting granny’ so the kids know why you’re using the tablet/phone. All too often, others are excluded from whatever someone’s doing on a device, when all they see is their face in front of a screen.
Provide opportunities for non-tech activities. If you’re confident your children have had time outside, done their homework, gone swimming, played with friends etc, you can relax more about screen time, knowing they are getting the chance to develop other interests.
Talk about your concerns Help your children understand for themselves why too much screen time is not a healthy choice, in much the same way you might discuss the importance of brushing their teeth. It helps them learn to take responsibility for their own actions and feel more in control as a result.
Show an interest Show you are interested in what your children are doing on the internet. Joining them in a computer game every now and then or asking more about what they’re doing in Minecraft, may help break down some of the tension that can arise around screen time. Showing interest in things your children like lets them know you respect their choices and helps them realise they can come to you with things that are important to them.
Give yourself a break. Being a parent is hard work. Accept that sometimes an iPad or phone may help stave off a meltdown or make a long car journey more bearable and allowing yourself flexibility is ok.