Home > Living > Wellness > Psychotherapy vs. Counselling: Similarities, differences, and how to get started
Psychotherapy vs. Counselling: Similarities, differences, and how to get started

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 adults and 1 in 6 children live with mental health conditions. With millions of people daily impacted by mental health conditions, understanding available treatment options are essential to helping you choose the best provider and approach.  Psychotherapy and counselling are therapies used to improve mental health and well-being. While people may use the terms interchangeably because they have similarities, there are also differences.

Counselling is a short-term therapy focused on addressing specific concerns. Psychotherapy is a longer-term therapy that helps people identify and explore recurring themes and issues.

This article highlights the similarities and differences between psychotherapy and counselling. Keep reading to learn more about what to consider when choosing an approach and what to expect when connecting with a mental health provider.

What to know about Psychotherapy

Image Credit: Emily Underworld/Unsplash

Also known as “talk therapy,” psychotherapy is a term used for various treatment techniques and can occur over the years or intermittently over time. Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), and psychoanalytic therapy are some commonly known forms of psychotherapy.

In psychotherapy, mental health providers and clients work together to identify recurring issues and examine how they impact their present life. This long-term treatment allows clients to explore their thoughts, emotions, and experiences of the world. Clients can develop healthy patterns and make long-lasting changes in their lives by uncovering and talking about core issues.

Psychotherapists use different therapeutic modalities (techniques) to treat mental health conditions, including addiction and substance use disorders, eating disorders, anxiety and mood disorders, phobias, traumas, and more.

What to know about Counselling

Counselling is shorter-term therapy that helps clients resolve specific issues. Someone might seek counselling to work on a particular issue or stressor. Once the counsellor and client identify the issue, treatment focuses on how to manage it. This might be through challenging thoughts, modifying behaviours, or learning coping strategies.

Individuals engaged in counselling may expect to spend anywhere from six weeks to six months in treatment. The role of the counsellor is to offer guidance and support as the client creates solutions that work for them. Types of counselling include grief counselling and marriage and family therapy.

Similarities and differences between Psychotherapy and counselling

Image Credit: cottonbro studio/Pexels

Counselling and psychotherapy are both used to treat mental health concerns. Psychotherapists and counsellors work in various settings, such as schools, hospitals, community centres, private practice, and inpatient facilities. Mental health professionals offering psychotherapy or counselling have roles and titles such as licensed mental health counsellors, licensed marriage and family therapists, clinical social workers, professional counsellors, psychologists, and psychiatrists.

Similarities between counselling and psychotherapy include:

  • Open, safe, non-judgmental, and empowering atmosphere to explore issues and problems
  • Collaborative, therapeutic relationship as the foundation for growth and change
  • Both can be utilised by adults and children
  • Acknowledge thoughts, feelings, and behaviours
  • Both can be used in various settings (community centres, private practice, schools)

A major difference between the two is the mental health provider’s level of training. Clinicians who practice psychotherapy receive extensive training to treat mental health conditions. Other differences include:

  • Psychotherapy tends to be long-term, while counselling is short-term
  • Psychotherapy focuses on problems, and counselling is geared toward solutions
  • In psychotherapy, past concerns are often explored, while counselling focuses on the present

Psychotherapy or counselling: What type of therapy is best for you?

It can be difficult to know which type of professional you should see. It’s essential to consider a few factors, including your concerns, what you hope to accomplish in therapy, and how much of a commitment you can make to treatment to determine your best option.

You might consider seeing a counsellor if you are:

  • Struggling with addictive behaviour
  • Interested in learning new coping skills
  • Having difficulty dealing with a transition or change
  • Trying to develop healthier habits
  • Dealing with grief

You might think about seeing a psychotherapist if you are:

  • Diagnosed with a mental health condition
  • Noticing changes or worsening of mental health symptoms
  • Experiencing unresolved issues that continue to manifest themselves in your daily life
  • Enduring a traumatic or another significant event
  • Having trouble resolving a concern in counselling

Finding a mental health provider

Image Credit: Timur Weber/Pexels

So, you know you want to talk to a mental health provider but are unsure how to find one. A good first step might be speaking with a healthcare provider you’re already established with, like your primary healthcare provider. They may be able to provide you with a referral. Other avenues you can try include:

  • Reaching out to your insurance carrier to find out about your benefits and providers who work within your policy
  • Calling your employer’s employee assistance program (EAP) and asking about their mental health benefits
  • Using the Hongkong counselling service

If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health concerns, contact the Caritas 24-hour Crisis Line at 18288 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

Getting started

Research shows that a positive therapeutic relationship is one of the best predictors of positive therapy outcomes and improvements in quality of life. So, before you embark on a journey in therapy, it’s crucial to choose a provider you trust.

Whether you choose Psychotherapy or Counselling, once you’ve narrowed it down to a few potential providers, ask for a consultation. Many providers offer this as an opportunity to share a little about their education, training, experience, and style. You can also use that time to share your concerns and what you hope to accomplish in therapy and discuss how you might work together.

You can talk to a few mental health providers before making a decision. Questions that might be helpful to ask when getting to know a provider include:

  • What can you tell me about your education and training?
  • How would you describe your therapy style?
  • What kind of approaches or modalities do you use?
  • What are your specialities?
  • What are the risks and benefits of therapy?

Determine what feels important for you to share about yourself. Give them a general sense of your concern and ask about their experience treating clients with similar circumstances. Having this conversation before committing to a provider can offer a sense of what therapy might look like with them.


Counselling and psychotherapy are types of therapy a mental health provider may offer to clients seeking to address mental health concerns and daily challenges.

Counselling tends to be short-term and focused on addressing a specific problem, like developing coping strategies. Psychotherapy tends to be longer-term and examines thoughts, feelings, and experiences throughout a person’s life and how they currently impact them.

Understanding the distinction between the two can help individuals decide which kind of therapy they want to pursue.

A word of wellness

Starting therapy is a big step. Engage in self-exploration and consider your concerns and what you’d like to accomplish by working with a mental health provider. Researching therapy modalities, mental health providers, and available resources can help you feel more empowered and prepared.

This story first appeared on www.verywellhealth.com

(Credit for the hero and featured image: Emily Underworld/Unsplash)

© 2021. Health Media Ventures, Inc. . All rights reserved.  Licensed from Health.com and published with permission of Health Media Ventures, Inc. . Reproduction in any manner in any language in whole or in part without prior written permission is prohibited.

Health and the Health Logo are registered trademarks of Health Media Ventures, Inc. Used under License.

Psychotherapy vs. Counselling: Similarities, differences, and how to get started

Geralyn Dexter, LMHC

Sign up for our newsletters to have the latest stories delivered straight to your inbox every week.

Yes, I agree to the Privacy Policy

Never miss an update

Subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest updates.

No Thanks
You’re all set

Thank you for your subscription.