Psychotherapy and counselling are both treatments for mental health problems that involve talking with a trained mental health professional. You talk about thoughts, feelings and behaviours to understand them better and work in a collaborative way to promote mental wellness.
The term psychotherapy is often used interchangeably with counselling, talk therapy or therapy. There can be a lot of overlap between psychotherapy and counselling.
Broadly speaking, counselling tends to be focused on one specific issue and is considered short-term treatment. You may learn coping techniques and problem-solve the issue together.
Psychotherapy tends to treat a broader range of issues and more complex problems. It can be a long-term treatment.
Depending on the type of psychotherapy or counselling offered, goals can include helping people learn to cope with and better manage their responses to life’s stresses, understand and change patterns of behaviour that get in the way of their personal goals, and have more satisfying relationships and feel more fulfilled.
Types of therapy
There are many different types of psychotherapy available, so reading about the types of therapies out there can help:
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) focuses on exploring a person’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours. During CBT, a therapist will actively work with a person to uncover unhealthy patterns of thought and how they may be causing self-destructive behaviours, and then help change those harmful thinking styles and behaviours.
- Psychodynamic therapy is a talking treatment based on the idea that thoughts and feelings you may not be aware of can cause problems such as anxiety, depression, poor self-esteem and difficulty with relationships. The therapist helps a person become more aware of their unconscious thoughts and feelings and develop healthier ways of dealing with their painful thoughts and feelings. The goals of treatment include improving how one feels about oneself, how one relates to other people and how one copes with stress.
- Dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT) was originally developed to treat chronically suicidal individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD). Over time, DBT has been adapted to treat people with multiple different mental illnesses, but most people who are treated with DBT have BPD as a primary diagnosis. The therapy focuses on mindfulness, distress tolerance, regulating emotions and developing interpersonal skills.
- Interpersonal therapy focuses on the relationships a person has with others, with the goal of improving the person’s interpersonal skills.
- Mentalization-based therapy helps people develop the skill of mentalizing, which means perceiving and understanding their feelings and considering the feelings of others. Mentalization-based therapy (MBT) can bring long-term improvement to people with a borderline personality disorder.