I am often asked the difference between psychotherapy and counselling. While these words are used interchangeably, there is a difference between them and it is vital to be cognisant of the distinction. Counselling generally implies a short term, very specific and targeted facilitation. There are many types of counsellors and varied topic-centred types of counselling, such as: marital counselling, drug and alcohol counselling, career counselling, health counselling etc. The list can go on . . what is important to know is that counselling designates a facilitation around very narrow criteria’s restricted to the theme the counselling is pivoted around.
So a marital counsellor will focus primarily on marital issues, and will have restricted therapeutic skills in other areas of mental health, such as trauma work, attachment issues or chronic pain. Tangential issues that could come up in the context of a marriage, that go beyond the nominal marital issues, are out of the scope of the counsellor and counselling. For instance, if there are sexual problems in a relationship, due to one of the partners being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, it would be hard for a counsellor alone to tackle such a case since childhood sexual abuse elicits deep trauma work. Counsellors are restricted to mostly working on the communication styles of the partners and regulating the behaviours of each member of the couple in the context of the marriage.
Psychotherapy or rather integral psychotherapy is a more expansive and holistic method of therapeutic work which integrates a vast panoply of areas from developmental, social, spatial, temporal, existential, behavioural and transpersonal vectors as they inform the subjectivity of the client. Here childhood misattunements with primary givers are given importance, as well as a range of other factors, some of which could be medical conditions, cultural conditionings, learning disabilities, traumas, stress reactions, dreams, fantasies, anxieties, memories, relational patterns, addictions, depression, tics, phobias etc. that impact the individual. A psychotherapist is trained in one or more modalities that are oriented towards harmonising psyche and soma like integral somatic psychology, psychoanalysis, analytical psychology, dialectical behaviour therapy, somatic experiencing, hakomi to name a few.
Like there are many different kinds of counselling, there are many divergent types of psychotherapies. It is good to inform oneself about the many kinds of psychotherapies available and then to choose what is most appropriate for oneself. If you are someone who is very into the imagination and has vivid dreams a Jungian analyst might be the right match, if you are oriented towards uncovering unconscious psychological roots of childhood experiences you might want a Freudian or a Kleinian, if you want group work a Bionian, for psychospiritual work a transpersonal psychotherapist, for somatic work a somatic therapist and so on . . .
It is best to know well your own sui generis therapeutic needs and then to find a psychotherapist or counsellor that will be able to work within your ambit and with your very specific, tailor made therapeutic goals.