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Psychology and psychotherapy – what’s the difference?

The difference between psychology and psychotherapy can be a little confusing. Perhaps partly because the two words— psychotherapy/psychology look so similar. And they are also quite similar professions with some crossover counselling involved.

However, there are a few differences. As a client, you may have quite different experiences with each. It’s great to be informed before you step into either a psychology or psychotherapy session, so that you can make informed choices and move in the direction that is most suitable for you.

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All counselling psychologists do counselling, some also do psychotherapy. But not all counsellors or psychotherapists are psychologists, in fact rarely is this the case. Not all psychologists are in the field of counselling. For example, some psychologists are in industries such as advertising and marketing, human resources, statistics and research and more. Below, however, I am referring to clinical psychologists who are specialists in mental health.

Psychology literally means the study of the mind or behaviour.

Psychology is ‘…the scientific study of the human mind and its functions, especially those affecting behaviour in a given context.’

In a psychology degree (in Australia), there may be very little training in counselling and the focus is scientifically and medically focussed. However, if the psychologist wants to work as a counselling psychologist, further study is required which is where the counselling skills are acquired.

With this medical model and scientific focus, a psychologist works with the DSM-V(diagnostic and statistical manual, version five) which helps them organise data from individuals in order to diagnose them. There are an array of personality and mental health disorders that can be diagnosed and symptoms attributed to such. And then once diagnosed, usually evidence based therapies (such as cognitive behavioural therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy) are applied as a treatment.

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On the flip side, a counsellor or psychotherapist cannot diagnose. They will know and understand about personality disorders and mental health conditions but are not involved in the diagnosing of them. Counsellors apply their speciality knowledge and skillset with personalised therapy and addressing your presenting concerns and issues.

Counsellors and psychotherapists are trained usually with a person centred approach and the majority of their training is about the counselling process, counselling and communication and interpersonal skills and therapeutic processes. In some cases, they will incorporate the evidence based therapies mentioned earlier.

Counsellors and psychotherapists are trained in human connection and interpersonal skills as a primary focus, whereas a psychologist is scientifically trained with a primary focus on the brain, the mind and human behaviour.

There are benefits to seeking therapy from counsellors, psychotherapist and psychologists and you may prefer one approach over another. Some people can even benefit from a combination of counselling and psychology as part of their treatment team.

Try some counselling services to help address your personal issues and concerns today.

About Tanya M Wilson

Tanya M Wilson is a sought after counsellor and psychotherapist based in Adelaide, South Australia.
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