What is the difference between counselling and psychotherapy?


Some of the most common questions we get are: “What is the difference between counselling and psychotherapy?” And “What is the difference between therapy and psychotherapy?” And “Do you offer both counselling and therapy in Sydney?”

Let’s begin!

Firstly, Therapy, Counselling and Psychotherapy are used somewhat interchangeably. There are differences and overlaps, and where to draw the line between each is arguable.

You can find more technical or detailed explorations of the definitions, however here is a brief look at how we tend to use these terms.

The difference between counselling and psychotherapy

Really, Therapy is just shorthand for Psychotherapy. Broadly speaking people tend to understand Therapy as professional help or treatment for psychological, emotional and/or mental discomfort or pain. Counselling can be used in much the same way.

In brief, Counselling is usually shorter in duration and more specific in scope. Therapy/Psychotherapy is usually more extensive, aimed at alleviating more complex, long-standing pain or symptoms.

What is Counselling?

Within the profession, Counselling is usually used to describe the support provided to someone who is facing specific challenges in their daily life because of a current situation or set of circumstances. Perhaps they are dealing with relationship, financial, work or health difficulties just now. You can often point to a situation or experience at the root of the struggle. Counselling describes shorter-term support or is focussed on alleviating the pain or stress associated with the current difficulties.

What is Therapy/Psychotherapy?

By contrast Therapy/Psychotherapy is sought by someone looking to address longstanding challenges. It might be that a person recognises that the difficulty in their current relationship or in their work or social life, stems from dysfunctional family dynamics growing up. Or that they are looking for lasting positive change in the face of lifelong self-esteem issues.

You might not know what your problem is, or whether you need Counselling or Psychotherapy — which is why the focus of early sessions includes an assessment of your current difficulties or symptoms, as well as seeking details about your life story and family history.

However, even though you might identify that you had a significant loss or trauma as a child and that you have some personality traits or coping behaviours that cause issues in your life today, you might want targeted, supportive Counselling ahead of an interstate move to pursue a promotion or relationship. Perhaps you will consider Psychotherapy later if struggles persist or resurface.

If you want to know the difference between counselling and psychotherapy because you have to choose, fear not, you only need to deal with one therapist who will meet you where you are.

difference between counselling and psychotherapy

Different types of therapeutic support in challenging times

In recent years with the pandemic, many people experienced additional stress and challenges with fear, isolation, unexpected hardship and struggle. Some sought Counselling to help get them through. Some managed to cope but depressive symptoms or some anxiety surfaced later — whether they associated it with the pandemic or not. Again Counselling can assist you through a difficult period.

Or if this challenging time provoked an old injury or weakness that you have long, and perhaps unwittingly carried, some Psychotherapy that looks a bit deeper or more broadly at how you are in the world and in relationships, may be what you are looking for.

Counselling for emotional injuries

If you sprain your ankle, you rest it, use ice and apply extra support where needed. If you are still limping and it’s painful, you see a physiotherapist who treats it to reduce discomfort and restore functionality while you recover.

We could equate that with Counselling, the treatment and support for recovery from a psychological, emotional or mental sprain.

Therapy for underlying, past-based injuries

Continuing the sprain analogy, if we discover the ankle sprain is recurring or stems from a previous injury or weakness, or due to a problematic running style for example, the physiotherapist may offer treatment and habit changes that go beyond the current symptoms to address the underlying cause.

We could equate this more extensive discovery and treatment with Psychotherapy/Therapy.

Please know that our therapy, psychotherapy or counselling services can happen interchangeably with our Sydney therapists!

I realise this is not a perfect analogy but hopefully, it illustrates that the terms can refer broadly to similar types of treatment and that one or both might be suitable for you at any given time. What is important is to realise that you have a choice as to what you pursue at any point in time.

Local Sydney Therapy, Counselling or both!

We offer our Sydney Therapy services in the CBD at 185 Elizabeth Street. There are parking stations in nearby city streets, however, most clients who drive in for their Sydney therapy sessions avoid the city centre (and more expensive parking fees) and park either in the car park at the Domain or St Mary’s Cathedral/Cook & Phillip Pool.

It is then about a 400m walk. Limited paid meter parking is also available in the streets surrounding the pool and cathedral, near the Domain and the Art Gallery of NSW.