Deciding what therapy you need is bewildering. You are making a crucial and expensive decision. There are many contradictory claims, and maybe no-one you can turn to for advice. These pages are intended to provide some practical guidance.
They are written from my own informal personal viewpoint. They are meant to be fair, but not necessarily impartial, because I stand for certain clear human values about therapy and personal development. I've tried to make those values plain.
My standpoint is UK-centered. Things may be different in other countries.
There's no clear-cut difference. All these therapists do overlapping things. Sometimes a counsellor and a psychotherapist may be indistinguishable in what they do; at other times two counsellors (or two psychotherapists or two hypnotherapists) will be so different in their approach that they have nothing in common. Hypnotherapists obviously use hypnosis, but nowadays do other things as well. Hypnosis is not a treatment in itself, all that it can ever do is assist some other therapeutic approach. Those who are not hypnotherapists may use a type of hypnosis, in the form of relaxation and guided imagery. CBT (cognitive-behavioural therapy) is one specific technique, and all three categories of therapist may use it; psychotherapists and counsellors who use only CBT may call themselves “CBT therapists”.
In general in the UK, psychotherapists are viewed as being more qualified, and as dealing with more deeply unhappy people in more depth. Psychoanalysis is the original variety of psychotherapy, founding a lineage from which quite a few other schools of therapy are descended. Nowadays it is just one therapy among many, and by no means any longer the best. Counsellors are viewed as less qualified then psychotherapists and perhaps as dealing more with situational support rather than core emotional issues. Hypnotherapists are less integrated into hospital and social work frameworks than counselors and psychotherapists, and so are seen as a separate type of beast. But in fact they also do similar things. Hypnotherapists have a rather wide spectrum of capability. Some hypnotherapists (perhaps the majority) offer basic supportive work with an emphasis on making changes to habits of thought or action. Other hypnotherapists, such as myself, do counselling and depth psychotherapy.
“Going into psychotherapy” is a specific phrase used in the UK to refer to a major commitment to regular sessions over a long period, maybe a year, maybe seven years. However the majority of all types of therapist nowadays are “brief therapists”, seeing people for weeks or months rather than years. I don't believe in long-term one-to-one therapy for most people. My personal observation is that mostly the money spent on "going into therapy" on a long-term basis would be better spent on a mixture of brief therapy and well-chosen personal development workshops.
However the idea “psychotherapist = more qualified, counsellor = less qualified” is very approximate and fuzzy; for example, many people termed “counsellors” (and social workers) are doing deep work with hugely difficult clients. And then there are all the coaches, relationship coaches, tantra teachers, meditation teachers, sages, enlightened beings, spiritual teachers and so many others under the general umbrella of personal development. For the majority of people who do not have serious metal health problems needing specialist help, some of these cover the same ground as psychotherapy. Well-chosen practitioners can be among the most highly expert and effective therapists.
Does that make things clearer which to choose? - probably not! Don't worry, many roads lead to Rome. In many situations it doesn't matter what category of therapist you choose. A few people have a serious mental health problem, and need specialist help. Otherwise, think less of the category which a therapist belongs to. Instead look for an individual therapist that you feel a fit with. But over and over again, research shows that the main factor in therapy is the relationship with the therapist - do you feel understood and respected? Do you feel safe to share possibly intimate things? Do you feel that the therapist sees, and stands for, the good and strong things in you, or only sees and focusses on weakness and problems? Do you feel met as a person, or treated as a case? All these are human qualities which are independent of any school of thought. Research proves they are much more important than categories and labels. I'll explain more on other pages.
This very moment is the perfect teacher.
Zen Buddhist saying
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