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Counsellor or Psychologist?

Photo: Counsellor or Psychologist
Counsellors and psychologists are both licensed professionals who offer patients mental health support. These two healthcare professions, as well as psychotherapists and psychiatrists are often confused with each other as they overlap in terms of the help they can provide. However, there are key differences for patients and healthcare professionals to understand when referring patients forward.

The difference between counselling and other mental health support professions

Psychotherapy covers the therapies and associated methods which use communication as a means to assist a patient. Psychotherapists will work with patients who have a range of concerns such as emotional problems and psychiatric issues. A psychotherapist can work in partnership with other medical professionals, and may even carry out group, couple or family therapies. Many choose to specialise in certain therapies, such as psychoanalytical, cognitive behavioural or humanistic therapy which all have different focus points to understand behaviour reasoning (1).
Psychologists are involved with all matters of mind, which comprises of everyday thought processes and behaviours. An applied psychologist will work with patients in a clinical setting to assist with complex mental health conditions. Counselling psychologists are specialists who use therapeutic practice with research and theories to deal with patients who may have a serious long term history of domestic violence or sexual abuse, or minor short term issues such as bereavement, trauma and relationship difficulties (1).

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has specialised in psychiatry, therefore they are able to prescribe medications, carry out medical examinations and tests when required. A psychiatrist will tend to deal with patients who have more severe mental health conditions. Therefore these doctors may be responsible for diagnosing, managing and preventing syndromes – behaviours that occur in clusters together (1).

Counsellors need to go through extensive training and obtain certificates and certain qualifications to be officially verified as a counsellor. They may even use psychotherapy to help patients suffering from mental health problems. However, ultimately their main role is to talk through concerns with patients in a confidential environment. Sessions do not necessarily need to take place face to face, they can be offered over the phone, email or even through online communication software’s such as Skype.

Counselling can be offered individually, to a group, couple or family depending on the issues. Most importantly, counsellors will encourage patients to find solutions themselves instead of offering solutions (1).

Who do counsellors help?

Patients will usually see counsellors when they are having concerns and difficulties in everyday life, they can guide a patient and help them understand their thought patterns, behaviours, emotions and reasons for why certain behaviours and thoughts can be problematic for the patient.

Counsellors can confidentially listen to, empathise and talk with patients about the following issues and problems;

  • Suffering from and overcoming abuse
  • Battling addictions
  • Dealing with loss and bereavement
  • Resolving work related issues
  • Overcoming depression, stress and anxiety
  • Overcoming eating disorders
  • Resolving family and relationship issues
  • Increasing self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Recovering from trauma

There are also various forms of counselling, face to face counselling sessions allow the patient to talk openly and in total confidentiality with the counsellor. Patients may require help in setting goals for themselves, and deciding on how to achieve them so that they can improve the quality of their life (2).

Group counselling sessions allow patients to discuss their concerns with people who are going through the same problems and difficulties; the counsellor will generally lead and facilitate the discussion.

In couples counselling, relationship issues can be explored with the counsellor who can help the couple to improve their communication skills and resolve issues with an intimate discussion. Discussions will involve each partner understanding the current relationship status, rediscovering why they were initially attracted to each other, identify what they both want from the relationship and how to improve it. Family counselling is usually suited to families who are having personal or interpersonal issues regarding children, marriage, separation or divorce and allows a family to sit and openly discuss their problems and search for answers together (3).

All types of counselling sessions are intended to be private, and within a safe environment to allow patients to discuss their feelings and emotions openly, without fear of being judged. If the counsellor is meeting with a couple or family, they will not persuade the family to stay together or separate as their primary job role is to listen and help patients identify the right solution for them (3).

A trusting relationship is essential between the patient and counsellor, if a patient feels uncomfortable with their counsellor then this issue should be addressed immediately or the patient should be offered a chance to meet another professional. The ideal counsellor should have excellent listening skills, a compassionate, calm and empathetic nature, skills which help them collaborate with patients and most importantly a professional objective in every session they undertake (2).

Counsellors can specialise in the issues they deal with and types of sessions they carry out, whether on a one to one basis or with multiple patients. Patients are advised to look into a counsellor’s experience, training and qualifications when privately searching for a professional before making a decision and booking a session (2).





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