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Counselling and psychotherapy fall under the umbrella term of ‘talking therapy’.  They are often used interchangeably and have many similarities, but there are some differences as well, which are mostly related to the history of origin of the therapy and the training courses that are given. Different talking therapies are called a complex mix of names and some therapies have several names. Behind every name is a particular way of working with people therapeutically in order to promote change. Many professionals use techniques and interventions coming from different types of therapies since different therapies provide different ideas. Anyone wishing to explore their emotions further or understand their thought process better, can benefit from talk therapy.  Furthermore, people who wish to overcome any issue or problem which is causing distress in their lives, can also find it fruitful.

Going to a therapy professional (be it a counsellor or psychotherapist) means engaging in a process of self-reflection.  By creating a safe and confidential environment, the professional supports you to talk about how you are feeling, what you are thinking and how your thoughts and feelings could be influencing your behaviour.  The professional is trained to help you gain a deeper understanding of your emotions, while obtaining more clarity of your thinking. The final goal is to bring about whatever changes you wish to make in your life.  The professional will never tell you what to do but will encourage you to talk about what is bothering you in order for you to gain more insight into the issues that may be limiting you. Together with the professional, you will then identify a plan of action of how best to overcome your difficulties.

All this can be provided by both a counsellor or a psychotherapist. In general, most counsellors are trained to work on specific current issues and situations and counselling takes place over a number of weeks. Psychotherapy is generally known for exploring past issues that may be contributing to current difficulties, and since this might mean that the professional would delve a bit deeper, it often takes place over a longer period of time. In reality, there is a lot of overlap between the two types of therapies and most counsellors and psychotherapists work in similar ways because they would tailor the interventions and duration of therapy according to the client’s needs.

People choose to go for counselling or psychotherapy for a variety of reasons, such as problems related to addictions, dealing with the loss of someone close to them, relationship difficulties, overcoming some traumatic experience and other life issues which might affect mental health causing anxiety, depression, stress or low self-esteem.

There are many different approaches or therapies a counsellor or psychotherapist may adopt. All depend on the preference of the professional as well as the issues being presented for therapy.

Some of these therapies, such as cognitive behaviour therapy, focus more on the thought process and how this is effecting behaviour.  Humanistic therapies, on the other hand, are more holistic in their approach. They are person-centered, focusing more on the issues being presented at the moment.  A type of humanistic therapy is Gestalt Therapy.

A Gestalt Psychotherapist works mostly with individuals and/or couples by following a modality and type of therapy called Gestalt Therapy.  Gestalt therapy is an experiential form of psychotherapy that focuses on the client’s experience in the present moment and how past experiences have an effect on present symptoms or issues. The relationship between the therapist and the client and what they create together is imperative, together with the emphasis on the client’s personal responsibility, and the  environmental and social contexts of a person’s life. A Gestalt therapist would help the individual become more aware of their self-regulating adjustments as a result of their experiences. The objective of Gestalt therapy is to enable the client to become more fully and creatively alive and to become free from the blocks and unfinished business that may diminish satisfaction, fulfillment, and growth. Gestalt therapy may help an individual experiment with new ways of being.

Talk therapy can be an enriching journey. With the assistance of your counsellor or psychotherapist, you can learn to better understand and equip yourself to deal with whatever life issues you are facing, in a more positive and constructive way.

Stephanie Caruana is a counsellor at Willingness. She offers counselling services to adolescents and adults experiencing some form of distress. She can be contacted on stephanie@willingness.com.mt or call us on 79291817.