Counsellor, psychotherapist, psychotherapeutic counsellor, therapist?
Today, these terms; counsellor, psychotherapist and therapist have become almost interchangeable and potentially indistinguishable. It can be somewhat confusing. They are all used to refer to professionals providing a wide variety of psychological help, often called ‘talking therapy'. Humanistic therapists - be they, counsellors, psychotherapists or psychotherapeutic counsellors all work with clients to explore their thoughts, feelings and behaviours and ultimately to understand themselves better and live more satisfying lives. So why the different terminology and what are the implications for counselling and psychotherapy training?
Back in the day, the psychiatry profession wouldn’t allow Carl Rogers, an American psychologist and among the founders of the humanistic approach, to call himself a psychotherapist because he was a lay psychologist, not a trained medical doctor. Rogers adopted the word ‘counselling' to describe the work he did with clients (written counseling in the US, a term which had originally been used by social activist Frank Parsons in the early 1900s who founded a movement for organised vocational guidance). This started a divide between the professionals calling themselves psychotherapists; who often had medical training and counsellors who were sometimes seen as less academically qualified.
So what is the difference then between a counsellor and a psychotherapist?
There are no official or agreed definitions of these titles. Below is one way of understanding the different ways in which some counsellors and psychotherapists work.
Counselling tends to be a short-term, more goal-oriented intervention that primarily focuses on specific issues and immediate concerns. It is often sought to explore challenges such as relationship problems, grief, stress management, and other situational difficulties. Counsellors sometimes work with clients to develop practical strategies and coping skills to overcome these challenges and improve their overall well-being. Counselling sessions are sometimes structured and may involve setting achievable goals and monitoring progress over a limited time period.
Psychotherapy, on the other hand, tends to be a more in-depth and long-term approach that aims to address underlying issues. It can involve exploring the client's past experiences, childhood, belief systems, embodied experience or patterns of behaviour to gain insight into their current struggles. Psychotherapists use various therapeutic modalities, such as psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioural, humanistic, or integrative approaches, to help clients gain self-awareness, explore deep-seated conflicts, and foster personal growth. Psychotherapy is typically a more open-ended and exploratory process, with sessions occurring over a more extended period.
The debates about the difference between counsellors and psychotherapists have been running since the late 1990s and are still unresolved. The issue exists in part because both the title counsellor and psychotherapist are not legally recognised and therefore neither term is specifically defined or protected in law. As the law stands, anyone can call themselves a psychotherapist, or a counsellor, with no specific or defined training. The term ‘counsellor’ has been adopted for many diverse job titles, for example; ‘careers counsellor’, ‘debt counsellor’ and ‘spiritual counsellor’.
So what does this mean for trainee therapists?
In practice, the Homa training does not distinguish between the two. Over the course of four years, you will develop all the skills and qualities you need to work therapeutically with clients both as a counsellor and a psychotherapist.
Once you have successfully completed the four year course you will be awarded a Homa Diploma in Counselling and Psychotherapy. If you choose to become accredited by the BACP, then according to their classifications, you will be a Psychotherapeutic Counsellor but this does not define what you call yourself or what title you use. Currently, you can choose to use the title that feels right to you. You can call yourself a Psychotherapist or a Counsellor or a Psychotherapeutic Counsellor on all your promotional materials, on websites and in your profiles.