Psychotherapy, Counselling or Talking Therapy?

Psychotherapy, counselling or talking therapy?

– by Tiago Brandao

Counselling and Psychotherapy are two of the many names that can be used to refer to different types of “talking therapy”. The idea of using talking therapy was first identified by Sigmund Freud in the early 20th century, when he sought to cure his patients’ physical ailments using dialogue.

As technology and scientific methods improved, research disproved some of Freud’s original findings and uncovered new links between the body and the brain. This led to the development and diversification of a number of theories and diaglogue-based approaches, each with its own strengths.

Currently, psychotherapy and counselling can be divided in three broad approaches:

  • Psychodynamic psychotherapy evolved from Freud’s original work. It tends to focus on the unconscious processes of the human mind and the impact these have on interpersonal relationships. Research has demonstrated that psychodynamic psychotherapy is effective over years of practice or treatment. It tends to be a long process with regular sessions of therapy taking place over years.
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) focuses on changing the individual’s thoughts (“cognitions”) and behaviours. CBT has been shown to have a beneficial impact on the person’s general sense of wellbeing. It also provides the individual with a number of tools to use to continue the therapeutic process once the therapy sessions come to an end. Cognitive behavioural therapy is the main approach used by the NHS. 70% of the population has shown improvements in their mental health following treatment(1). CBT tends to be a short intervention (around 8-12 sessions). Some professionals have questioned whether benefits are maintained into the long-term with CBT – it is seen by some as a short-term fix.
  • Person-centred approaches focus on an individual’s ability to self-heal and provide a safe space to do so. These approaches, which utilise flexibility and warmth, tend to be attractive as they respect they make allowances for each person’s rate of development whilst providing the challenge and the support concurrently.

Gestalt Therapy is a person-centred approach that focuses on an individual’s ability to adapt – using the relationship between therapist and client creatively and compassionately to support the person to realise their full potential. In the 21st century, most healthcare professionals aspire to make their care and treatment person-centred. Because of the highly individual nature of Gestalt Therapy and other person-centred approaches, research methods are still being developed to measure the active ingredients of the therapy and their outcomes. Person-centred therapies tend to be a middle length approach compared with psychodynamic psychotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy, but allow for each person’s development, from months to years.

The brain, the mind, human behaviour and the study of relationships are challenging to study as isolating the variables that affect someone’s development requires enormous research resources. It is, as all others sciences, a never ending process of new discoveries and development.

Research has identified that the most important aspect of psychotherapy or counselling is the relationship between a person and their therapist, known as the therapeutic relationship(2).  The more positive and trusting the relationship a person has with their therapist the more successful the therapeutic process.

When looking for a therapist, it is essential that you find someone that you feel comfortable with and that you are willing to build a trusting relationship with, as research shows this will have a significant impact on your development and capacity to achieve your potential.

For this reason, I offer an initial 30-minute session free of charge. This session allows us to get to know each other, and decide whether we can work together successfully.


1. Butler AC, Chapman JE, Forman EM & Beck AT (2006). The empirical status of cognitive-behavioral therapy: a review of meta-analyses. Clin Psychol Rev. Jan 26(1):17-31. Epub 2005 Sep 30.

2. Lambert MJ & Barley DE. (2001) Research summary on the therapeutic relationship and psychotherapy outcome. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training Vol 38(4), 357-361.