What’s The Difference Between Counselling And Psychotherapy?

I have come across numerous contradictory answers to this question. It appears that the definition of each term depends upon whom you ask. In my view, there is one fundamental difference between the two processes, together with lots of cross-over. This essential difference is sometimes tricky to grasp and even trickier to explain!
I believe that both counselling and psychotherapy are about providing a space where change can occur. Counselling mostly involves what is described as ‘first order change’ and psychotherapy mostly involves what is described as ‘second order change’. These concepts were developed in the context of therapy notably by Gregory Bateson and Paul Watzlawick.
So what do we mean by first and second order change? First order change is said to happen within an existing system or way of doing things. We might do more or less of something but we do it without fundamentally affecting the way the existing system is organised. Second-order change, on the other hand, goes beyond behavioural change and occurs when the rules that govern a system are modified.
Here’s a simple example: Bob is feeling overwhelmed and miserable at work. He re-contracts with his employer to reduce his hours overall and work from home one day a week. This is an example of first order change – Bob changes his behaviour within the confines of the existing system of working for someone else.  Second order change occurs when Bob decides to leave employment and set up his own business – something he has always dreamed of.
Both first and second order change can be beneficial. In terms of therapy, second order change occurs when the rules that govern our individual way of being in the world are rewritten to provide a better fit to our current situation. I believe that it is only through relating to another person that these rules come to light. Once we know what they are – and everyone’s rules will be different – we can start to examine them and decide whether we want to change within the system or change the system itself.
If you live or work within reach of Brighton and Hove and my approach to counselling and psychotherapy interests you, please contact me via email or telephone 07585 910742 for more information and to arrange an initial consultation.
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