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  • Writer's pictureCayla Townes

What is the Difference Between Psychotherapy and Counselling?

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

This is a really common question, even among mental health professionals! Many terms relating to mental health treatment have gotten jumbled, mixed, or confused as different states, provinces, territories, and countries use different words to describe similar activities.


Let me give you an example of what I mean. I am a Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying) in Ontario, but I have a degree in Counseling. In the jurisdiction where I got my degree, psychotherapy was practiced by Licensed Professional Counselors as well as other similarly trained mental health professionals (e.g. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists, Clinical Social Workers). Here in Ontario, there is no designation for a psychotherapy practitioner with the title “counsellor” in it.


Even just the spelling of "counselling" (or "counseling") is different depending on which English-speaking country you live in!


Clear as mud, right? No wonder people are confused about the difference between counselling and psychotherapy!



So what is the difference between counselling and psychotherapy?


Counselling is a term usually used to describe some kind of advice giving. Generally speaking, counselling is something used to find solutions for present, short-term problems. You can receive legal counsel, financial or spiritual counselling, counselling for addiction or grief, etc. If someone is in a role where they give advice about whatever subject they are knowledgeable about, they could call themselves a counsellor. What many life coaches practice could be called counselling. Counselling can also be provided by someone who is trained to practice psychotherapy.


However, people who call themselves counsellors are not necessarily qualified to provide psychotherapy. Psychotherapy is usually a more involved, longer-term treatment that focuses on dealing with chronic issues (see my previous post about what psychotherapy is). One of the reasons that psychotherapy involves more training to perform safely and effectively is that it usually involves addressing past events and looking for patterns and connections to current problems. Psychotherapy involves layers of complexity on top of advice giving.

Even though counselling and psychotherapy are usually used to address different issues or needs, they often have some broad shared goals, such as improving people’s lives and ability to function. They both also rely on safety and trust existing in the relationship between the individual seeking help and the counsellor/psychotherapist.

So how do you decide whether to work with a counsellor or a psychotherapist?


Much of this comes down to the issues you are dealing with, access to a provider, insurance coverage, and personal preference. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, one of the most important indicators of whether or not psychotherapy will be effective in helping someone reach their goals is if they feel safe with and trust their provider. The same is true of the relationship between client and counsellor. Trust is key.

So before you begin meeting with a counsellor or psychotherapist, see if they offer a free consultation meeting or call. Many of them do and they are happy to speak with you before scheduling a session. This gives you the opportunity to ask questions, see if you feel comfortable with them, and to share your needs and goals.


If you’re wondering about whether or not you’d like to work with me, please schedule a free initial phone or video consultation by clicking the link below.



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