There are a number of different professionals who provide counselling and talking therapies and it can be difficult to understand the differences.  ‘Counselling’ is a term that is often used to describe the process of talking to a mental health professional but can look quite different in practice.

Training

The training of counsellors and registered psychologists (e.g. clinical and counselling psychologists) is quite different in terms of its breadth and depth.  To register with the British Association of Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP), counsellors need a Diploma as the minimum level of training.   This takes a year full-time or two years part-time and involves at least 100 hours of supervised practice.  Clinical and counselling psychologists are required to do a minimum of a 3-year degree, some time in relevant work or research, and then a further three years of full-time Doctoral level training.  Their doctorate training includes supervised practice for 2-3 days per week throughout the three-year course.

Regulation

Counsellors may register with a professional body such as the BACP.  However, this is not compulsory.  And while a client can make a complaint about a counsellor who is registered with such a body, which may be investigated, these professional bodies are not regulatory.  In contrast, clinical and counselling psychologists are required to be registered with the regulatory body, the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC).  The HCPC has a register so that the public can check that any practitioner psychologist meets their standards for training, professional skills, behaviour and health:  https://www.hcpc-uk.org/public/be-sure-check-the-register/

Mental health expertise

Clinical and counselling psychologists have extensive training in psychological assessment, diagnosis and treatment.  Clinical psychologists are required to carry out supervised practice with the full spectrum of ages (children and young people through to older adults) and are also trained in neuropsychology.  This means they are well placed to work with people with complex difficulties.  Counselling training does not require an in-depth knowledge of mental health conditions and instead focuses on providing counselling and support services.

Scope of practice

Clinical and counselling psychologists are trained to offer a wide range of evidence-based interventions such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy or other specialised approaches.  They often work with individuals experiencing severe or complex mental health issues.  They will offer a psychological assessment, usually develop a formulation of a client’s difficulties with the client and agree the type of approach that is likely to be most helpful to alleviate their difficulties.

Counsellors, on the other hand, typically provide counselling and support to individuals dealing with everyday challenges, relationship issues, grief, stress and other common concerns.

Therapeutic approach

While both counsellors and registered psychologists may use various therapeutic techniques, clinical psychologists often have more extensive training in specialized therapeutic approaches.  They usually work with clients using more structured, intensive interventions for treating specific mental health disorders.

Counsellors tend to focus more on providing emotional support and guidance to help clients cope with life’s challenges and improve their overall wellbeing.

Cost

Due to the differences in level of training, expertise, breadth & depth of knowledge and regulation, clinical and counselling psychologists tend to charge a much higher fee than counsellors.  However, as counselling is usually less structured and focused, it can mean more sessions are required to achieve change.

In conclusion, therefore, counsellors tend to have shorter training, offer less structured interventions and be more suitable for those with shorter term, less complex difficulties, but they are less costly.  Clinical and counselling psychologists have extensive Doctoral level training including a range of client groups and therapeutic approaches.  They are trained in assessing and treating complex mental health difficulties and tend to offer more structured therapy.  They are therefore appropriate for those experiencing longer term, more severe and/or more complex difficulties.  Seeing a registered psychologist may be helpful for those who have already tried counselling but not found it enabled them to resolve their issues.  Registered psychologists are more expensive, but interventions may be more focused.  Seeing a psychologist who is registered with the HCPC provides assurance of the individual’s credentials, training and experience.

Please do get in touch if you wish to discuss whether counselling or psychology sessions would be more helpful for you.

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