While there are areas of similarity and overlap between Counselling and Psychotherapy, differences relate to the level of complexity which fall within the scope of practice of counsellors or psychotherapists and these in turn, reflect the different levels of training undertaken.
Internationally the ‘norms’ of training in psychotherapy require practitioners to have undertaken a minimum of seven years training, including undergraduate study in relevant health/social care areas followed by a minimum of 4 years training at postgraduate level, including a minimum of a Masters level qualification in the area of psychotherapy practice and four years training at that level. As a generality, Counsellors would tend to work with people who are anxious to make changes in their lives or perhaps with those who present with problems which could be described as falling within the category of the ‘softer mental health areas’. Likewise they might use their skills in an integrative way within such diverse practice areas as youth work, community work etc. Psychotherapy practice on the other hand, because the training is more comprehensive, longer and at Master level means that practitioners are normally more qualified to work in specialist areas of mental health or illness.
These distinctions are consistent with the recommendation of the Psychological Therapies Forum (2008) in Ireland, endorsed in the new draft award standards recently developed by QQI and now the subject of public consultation.
So what is this going to mean? At the very least it means that the education of Psychotherapists will be distinct from that of Counsellors and will be more intense and specialised. Psychotherapists are likely to be employed to deal with more complex issues of mental health/illness and to be frequently engaged in multi-disciplinary teams with other health professionals.
Should these recommendations be approved, placing minimum educational qualifications for Counselling at Level 8 and Psychotherapy at Level 9 on the NFQ, will in effect, send out a clear message to the public that those wishing to professionally practice in these areas will require a level of competency to carry out this work that reflects the standards of education set out above.
Statutory registration and the involvement of CORU as the guardian and overseer of both areas of professional practice should lead finally to standards which when nationally implemented will become a benchmark for others to follows.