The term is most often used to describe the talk therapies which focus on your behaviour patterns; things you might say or do that are causing issue. Counselling might reference your past but generally it’s focus is on helping you with what you are experiencing right now.
Counselling is often what is called ‘time-limited’ or ‘short-term’. In other words, you decide with your therapist, after discussion, how many sessions you will work together, which could be 6 session or may be more, perhaps 15 or 20 . Because it’s shorter term, counselling can be quite structured and directive with goals set out at the start.
The things counselling most often deal with are the sort of stuff you may currently be feeling stressed by. That could be the challenges you are facing on a daily basis at home or work or a traumatic circumstance such as a breakup, divorce, or bereavement. Counselling can also help with things like confidence issues and addictions.
Like counselling, psychotherapy is a talking therapy where you share what is troubling you and are listened to and supported in finding ways forward. Psychotherapy also looks at behavioural patterns that may be causing distress but it also works to help you have a deeper understanding of your emotions by examining your past. It looks at how childhood and adolescent experience may have affected you in ways that might still be causing you issues in the present. This examination can help increase self-awareness and insight which may provide solutions to your present difficulties or recurring patterns of behaviour.
Psychotherapy tends to be longer-term than counselling, which can mean anything from six months to several years.
Working for longer and at more depth can help with presenting issues like stress, relationship and sexual problems, bereavement and addictions. It can also help with mental health challenges like depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD and borderline personality disorder. Psychotherapy can also help resolve past trauma such as childhood abuse and neglect which may be affecting your relationships and coping mechanisms in the present.
Based on the works of Sigmund Freud, who most people have heard of, it also draws on more modern development of Freud's ideas by people less well known, like Jonathan Shedler, Jude Cassidy, Philip Shaver and Peter Fonagy. It is an approach to the psyche that sees personality as the result of a dynamic interplay of conscious, pre-concious and unconscious factors and how these effect our relationship with ourselves and others. The aim of the therapy is usually deep seated change.
The difficulties we experience in relationship with others usually arise in the therapeutic relationship and part of what I do is to provide a setting that is safe enough for this to be shared, experienced and understood during the course of therapy. This is not always an easy journey. The therapeutic relationship is somewhat asymmetrical in that I do not tell you of my experience but am there to listen to your story. This can at times feel unbalanced, awkward or unfair; although this can leave you free to focus on what matters to you and what is important in your life.
More detail on what to expect can be found in this blog post.