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What is counselling?


Terms such as therapy, counselling, helping, psychology and psychotherapy are often used to describe the type of service a counsellor or psychotherapist provides. This can get somewhat confusing and people are left unclear as to what is what. I will try to clarify the difference between counselling and psychotherapy although some would argue there is no great distinction. 

Counselling refers to mainly short-term work where there is usually a specific presenting issue, sometimes brought on by life events. An example would be Bereavement Counselling. Usually there are no underlying issues or associated complications. Mild Depression and Anxiety are well suited to this type of work.

Psychotherapy refers to deeper and therefore more long-term work. Broader theory bases inform it. Mood Disorders and behavioural issues treatable by a Psychotherapist would include: the depression spectrum (moderate to severe), anxiety disorders (including PTSD) and personality disorders. Psychotherapy based on Psychodynamics is particularly suited to complex situations where a person has a few different presenting issues.

Whatever the situation all practitioners in the field provide a supportive relationship for the person attending them, to help them with aspects of their lives where they need support. However some people use therapy as a form of self exploration to gain more self awareness. 

Counsellors and Psychotherapists in general have done a lot of personal development and a usual requirement for training is to have gone through the process of personal therapy themselves. Therapists who are affiliated to an accreditation body meet with a supervisor on a regular basis to discuss case issues and seek advice and support. They also follow a strict code of ethics laid down by the accreditation organisation. 

There are many forms of counselling and different techniques used, such as CBT, psychoanalysis, family system therapy, existentialism Gestalt and person-centred. However recent research shows the technique used by the therapist is less important than the relationship that the person has with the therapist ( Wampold, 2001 ). 

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