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Understanding the differences between Counselling and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Updated: Apr 18

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In the realm of mental health and well-being, individuals often seek support and guidance to navigate the complexities of their thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. Two commonly utilized approaches in this field are Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Counselling. While both share the overarching goal of promoting mental health, they differ significantly in their methodologies, focus, and theoretical underpinnings.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT):

CBT is evidenced based, structured, goal-oriented therapeutic approach that addresses the interplay between thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Developed by Aaron T. Beck and Albert Ellis in the 1960s, CBT is rooted in the belief that our thoughts influence our emotions, which in turn impact our behaviour. This approach is particularly effective for individuals dealing with specific issues or disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and phobias. It is also a therapy which is supported by NICE Guidance in treating many mental health conditions.

Key Features of CBT:

1. **Cognitive Restructuring:** CBT emphasizes identifying and challenging negative thought patterns, replacing them with more constructive and realistic thoughts. This process is known as cognitive restructuring and forms the core of CBT interventions.

2. **Behavioural Techniques:** CBT incorporates behavioural strategies to modify and reinforce positive behaviours. These techniques may include exposure therapy, systematic desensitization, and behavioural experiments.

3. **Time-Limited:** CBT is typically a short-term therapy, focusing on specific goals within a limited number of sessions. The structured nature of CBT makes it suitable for individuals seeking practical solutions and rapid results.


Counselling, on the other hand, is a broader term that encompasses various therapeutic approaches aimed at providing emotional support, facilitating self-exploration, and promoting personal growth. Unlike CBT, counselling is not limited to addressing specific symptoms or disorders but rather focuses on the overall well-being of the individual.

Key Features of Counselling:

1. **Holistic Approach:** Counselling takes a holistic approach, considering various aspects of an individual's life, including relationships, work, and personal identity. It encourages self-reflection and exploration of one's feelings and experiences.

2. **Client-Centered:** Person-centered therapy, developed by Carl Rogers, is a widely used counselling approach. It emphasizes empathy, unconditional positive regard, and congruence between the counsellor and the client. The goal is to create a supportive environment that fosters personal growth and self-discovery.

3. **Longer-Term Perspective:** Counselling often involves a more extended duration of therapeutic engagement, allowing individuals to delve deeper into their concerns and experiences. The open-ended nature of counselling sessions accommodates a more flexible exploration of personal issues.

Choosing Between CBT and Counselling:

The choice between CBT and counselling depends on individual preferences, the nature of the concerns, and the desired outcomes. If someone is dealing with a specific issue and seeks practical strategies to address it, CBT may be a suitable choice. On the other hand, those looking for a more exploratory and holistic approach to personal development may find counselling to be a better fit.


In the diverse landscape of mental health interventions, both CBT and counselling play vital roles, offering distinct approaches to support individuals on their journey toward well-being. Whether one opts for the structured and targeted interventions of CBT or the more open-ended and holistic exploration of counselling, the ultimate goal is to empower individuals to lead fulfilling and meaningful lives.

By Ben Lea, RMN, CBT & EMDR Therapist, Congleton, Cheshire

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