There are probably more similarities between counselling and psychotherapy than there are differences. One could say that counselling tends to focus on specific and current life issues and is more often short-term, and that psychotherapy is inclined toward an open-ended exploration of deep-rooted or recurring problems. But I’m not sure that’s adequate. Given that there is plenty of overlap between what a counsellor does and what a psychotherapist does, a more helpful question than ‘What’s the difference between counselling and psychotherapy?’ might be: ‘In the UK, what is the difference between a counsellor and a psychotherapist?’
Answer: A counsellor is someone who has completed a BACP-approved training programme lasting approximately three years part-time, typically to Diploma-level. A psychotherapist is someone who has completed a UKCP or BPC-approved training programme lasting a minimum of four years, though usually longer, and always to at least Master’s degree level.
This does not mean that a psychotherapist is necessarily a ‘better’ practitioner than a counsellor, only that s/he has completed a longer training at more depth and in greater detail than is possible over the shorter course of a counselling training. The academic level of a psychotherapy training will in most cases be higher than that of a counselling training. However, I’m convinced (and there is research to support the claim) that the personal and relational qualities of counsellors and therapists are worth more than the academic levels of their professional education when it comes to therapeutic outcomes.
To read about these professional organisations, and others, see my post called ‘Accreditations, Associations, Acronyms Galore’.