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Illustration showing the difference between a counsellor and a therapist

What is the difference between Counselling & CBT?

CBT vs Counselling

Determining the difference between Counselling and CBT helps you choose the right support for your mental health journey. A counsellor focuses on facilitating personal growth and emotional exploration, while a therapist applies structured techniques like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to alter negative thinking patterns, troublesome behaviours and address specific conditions. This article provides a closer look at the unique functions, goals, and treatment methods that highlight the differences between counselling and CBT Therapy, guiding you in making an informed choice for your well-being.

Key Takeaways

  • Counselling focuses on self-exploration and dealing with emotions, and is less structured than CBT, which is goal-oriented and targets changing negative thought patterns and behaviors.
  • CBT is typically used for treating specific mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, OCD, and PTSD, employing techniques such as cognitive restructuring, while counselling is beneficial for relationship issues and life transitions.
  • The choice between CBT and counselling depends on the individual’s issues, with CBT being more effective for specific problems and counselling for broader emotional understanding; both require practitioners to be properly trained and licensed.


When it comes to addressing mental health problems, there is a broad range of options to choose from. Each therapy type has its own unique approach and is designed to effectively address various mental health conditions, including depression and situational stressors, using different techniques. Selecting the right therapy, based on informed decisions, is a key step towards addressing your personal needs and enhancing your overall well-being.

Counselling and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) are two common forms of therapy recognized by the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) and BABCP respectively. Both require practitioners to have a graduate degree and specific training in their respective fields. However, they differ in their approach to helping individuals deal with mental health problems.

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a popular method of talk therapy, frequently employed in counselling and psychotherapy. Primarily facilitated by a CBT Therapist or a clinical psychologist, this goal-oriented therapy focuses on identifying and modifying negative thought patterns and behaviors to enhance mental health treatment.

CBT works on the premise that our thoughts influence our feelings, which in turn affect our behavior. Clients can alter their behavior and enhance their mental health by identifying and confronting these negative thought patterns. Key techniques include cognitive restructuring, exposure therapy, and behavioral experiments, which are part of the broader field of counseling psychology.

CBT is an effective treatment for several mental health disorders. It is commonly used for conditions such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

among others. The success of CBT in treating these conditions has made it a cornerstone of behavioral health care. Within the spectrum of mental health services, CBT stands out as a vital resource for individuals seeking help for mental health challenges, offering a structured approach to overcoming difficulties and improving well-being.

What is Counselling?

Unlike CBT, counselling provides a safe and confidential environment where clients can delve into their feelings, thoughts, and behaviours. It’s a form of talk therapy facilitated by a licensed professional counselor or a licensed mental health counselor. Counseling psychologists play a pivotal role in offering therapy as part of counseling psychology.

Counselling nurtures personal growth and understanding by creating a secure, confidential space for clients to explore their perspectives and emotions. This is accomplished using different approaches, including person-centered, psychodynamic counselling, and integrative therapy.

Counselling can be useful for a wide range of issues. It is especially beneficial for dealing with relationship issues, coping with life transitions, and managing various emotional difficulties. This highlights the wide range of counseling specialties available to help clients.

Differences Between CBT and Counselling

Illustration showing the difference between a counsellor and a therapist

While both counselling and CBT are forms of talk therapy, there are significant differences between the two. The primary difference lies in the focus of therapy. CBT is problem-oriented, focusing on current issues and the practical ways to solve them. On the other hand, counselling is more about self-exploration and understanding the root cause of emotional difficulties.

The structure and duration of sessions also differ. CBT sessions are usually more structured and shorter in duration, with a clear focus on achieving specific goals. In contrast, counselling sessions may be longer and less structured, allowing for more exploration of feelings and thoughts.

In terms of the role of the therapist, CBT therapists are typically more directive, while counselling is non-directive, with the therapist acting more as a guide. The outcomes and goals also vary. CBT aims to bring about behavioral change by altering thought patterns and behaviors. Counselling, on the other hand, seeks to bring about emotional understanding and acceptance, helping the individual to better manage their emotions.

Choosing Between CBT and Counselling

The decision between CBT and counselling requires consideration of several factors, including the nature of the issue, personal inclinations, and anticipated results. For instance, if you’re dealing with a specific problem like anxiety or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, CBT might be more effective. On the other hand, if you’re dealing with relationship issues or life transitions, counselling might be a better fit.

Additionally, consulting a mental health professional, who can recommend the most appropriate therapy for your personal needs, is of utmost importance.

Regulatory Standards for Licensed Mental Health Counselors & Therapists

Each profession has a dedicated board that oversees professional standards for therapists, such as the BABCP or the BACP. You can check to see if a therapist is accredited by these bodies by checking the registers on their websites:

Choosing Your Mental Health Treatment Professional

Understanding the differences between counsellors, therapists, and other mental health professionals is crucial when selecting your mental health professional. Counsellors, therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists all have different levels of training, different specialties, and different approaches to treatment. Psychiatrists are medical doctors specialising in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of mental illness and mental illnesses, uniquely qualified to prescribe medication and monitor its effects on both the mental and physical health of patients. The right professional for you will depend on your specific needs.

Another important consideration is finding a mental health professional who understands your cultural background and specific mental health concerns. This can have a significant impact on the effectiveness of your treatment. It’s also important to keep in mind your budgetary constraints. Consider insurance coverage, in-network professionals, and reduced-cost options at educational institutions or community health centres.

Lastly, the professional you select should have the required education, training, and licensing, ensuring that you receive safe and effective treatment. Remember, seeking help for mental health concerns is a courageous and inspirational step towards happiness and well-being.


In conclusion, while both counselling and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) aim to improve mental health and wellbeing, they differ in their approach, techniques, and therapeutic relationships. Understanding these differences is crucial when choosing the right therapy for individual needs. By considering the nature of the issue, personal preferences, desired outcomes, and budget, and by consulting with a mental health professional, you can ensure you receive the most effective treatment. Remember, your mental health is important, and seeking help is a courageous step towards happiness and well-being.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main difference between counselling and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)?

The main difference between counseling and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is that CBT is problem-oriented, focusing on practical ways to solve current issues, while counseling is more about self-exploration and understanding the root cause of emotional difficulties.

What should I consider when choosing between CBT and counselling?

When choosing between CBT and counseling, consider factors like the nature of your issue, personal preferences, and desired outcomes. It’s important to consult with a mental health professional for guidance tailored to your individual needs.

What are the regulatory standards for therapists?

The regulatory standards for therapists are managed by state boards and the Professional Standards Authority oversees profession-specific regulations.

Where do counsellors and therapists typically work?

Counsellors typically work in community and educational settings, supporting students with academic and social challenges, while therapists often work in private practice or healthcare settings.

What should I consider when choosing a mental health professional?

When choosing a mental health professional, consider their qualifications, cultural understanding, specific mental health expertise, and budget. Ensure they have the proper education, training, and licensing to meet your needs.