Factsheet: Counselling

This factsheet is available in a downloadable PDF here. 

Table of Contents

What is Counselling / Psychotherapy?
What to Expect

What Qualifications should a Counsellor/ Therapist have?
What Kind of Therapy should I be Looking for?
Looking for a Counsellor
Where can I Access Counselling?

What is Counselling / Psychotherapy?

Counselling / psychotherapy is a professional helping relationship which gives you a chance to openly and honestly look at what is happening in your life so you can find ways of living more effectively and enjoyably. It gives you an opportunity to talk confidentially about your experiences and feelings with someone who will listen carefully to help you look at your life and your feelings in order to seek possible changes.

COSCA (Counselling and Psychotherapy in Scotland) defines a counselling service as:
‘An explicit contractual agreement where the practitioner and the client contract to enter into a counselling / psychotherapeutic relationship, offered in privacy and confidence, to work towards living in a more satisfying and resourceful way. Counselling / psychotherapy is the only purpose for which practitioner and client meet. The definition includes work that is both time-limited and long-term, as well as work with individuals, pairs or groups. It may also include counselling which is not face-to-face.’


What to Expect

Counselling / psychotherapy is not about giving you opinions or advice, about telling you what you want to hear or about coming up with solutions for you. The counsellor/therapist will give you space to consider all the things that are having an effect on you in your situation and will support you to work out your own way forward. However, counselling/psychotherapy is not a magical cure and sometimes you may have to work to accept things that cannot be changed or to make sense of difficult things that have happened to you. This work requires a commitment from you, a willingness to look at yourself and the ability to take some risks in being open with another person. You will need to take responsibility for finding your own way forward but you will be given the support of a trained professional who will help you to do this. Counselling and psychotherapy are often offered on a one-to-one basis, but can also be offered for couples in relationships, for families and for groups.


If you feel that you need to get things off your chest but don’t want any change, or if you don’t want to look at your life in any depth, then counselling/psychotherapy is probably not for you just now. You might instead want to get support through organisations such as the Samaritans or Breathing Space. You can also access the Mental Health Service Directory on this site for information on different types of support available.

What Qualifications should a Counsellor/Therapist have?

It is generally accepted that the minimum appropriate qualification for a practicing therapist is a Diploma in Counselling or Psychotherapy. There are a number of organisations which act as registering bodies for counsellors and psychotherapists, such as BACP, UKCP and COSCA. This means that people who are listed with these organisations have given evidence of their training and experience to meet minimum standards, and are normally accountable to a professional code of conduct and complaints procedure. 

What Kind of Therapy should I be Looking for?

There is a major (on-going) debate about whether there is any real difference between counselling and psychotherapy.  Both are forms of ‘talking therapy’, where the practitioner uses their understanding and skill in a therapeutic relationship to try to help you to live a more effective and rewarding life.  Some people suggest that the difference is in the amount of training practitioners have had, with psychotherapists thought to require longer training.  Others think it has more to do with the length or ‘depth’ of the work, with counselling focused on shorter-term, solution-focused outcomes and psychotherapy focused on longer-term personality change. It could be argued that some schools of therapy emphasise the differences between these terms more than others.  Then again, some people say there is no significant difference in what practitioners ‘do’ with clients, only in whether they call it counselling or psychotherapy.

There are many different schools of counselling / psychotherapy. Each one has its own ideas about the likely origins of the problems people bring to therapy, and the best ways of working with these.

These broad schools of therapy include:

  • Psychodynamic (eg Jungian, Freudian, Kleinian, Object Relations)
  • Humanistic / Existential (eg Person-centred, Gestalt)
  • Transpersonal (eg Psychosynthesis, Core Process)
  • Cognitive-behavioural (eg Cognitive Analytical, Dialectical Behaviour therapy)

If you are interested in finding out more about the different kinds of schools of therapy you could check out information on the internet through sites such as Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org). Remember that website information can be unreliable, and there are differences of opinion amongst practitioners which may lead people to present different views of the same thing.

Each school has influenced the other and there are many overlaps between them, so much so that some people define themselves as integrative because their training aims to bring together the common elements of each. Training aims to give the therapist a framework through which to view the difficulties that the client is facing, and to suggest ways of working with them.

Looking for a Counsellor

It is important to find someone to work with that you trust and that you feel is qualified, experienced and confident enough to work with you.

  • If you are looking for a counsellor, the crucial questions to ask are:
  • Does this person seem to be someone I can talk to?
  • What kind of supervision does this person have? Every person offering counselling or psychotherapy is expected to be in supervision. This means that they have someone who works with them to ensure that the work done is ethical and helpful while respecting the confidentiality of the client.
  • What links do they have with registering bodies such as BACP, UKCP or COSCA?
  • Do I feel comfortable with their values, and what they are offering?
  • Is the counselling space comfortable, and pleasant?  

Where can I Access Counselling?

Counselling is offered in the voluntary sector, by organisations or through the services listed below. This is generally low cost.

There is some counselling available on the NHS but much of this is generally time limited. Speak to your GP for further information.

Finally there is a private sector where counsellors work for themselves. The Yellow pages has information about them, or you could check the key contacts below for details of counsellors near you.

Related Services

Below are links to Services in the Edspace database that may be of interest:

External websites related to Counselling

These web sites may be useful. Please note that we are not responsible for external sites; if you find any broken links or inappropriate content please report it to the site administrators using the feedback page.

  • British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy
    This is a registering body for counsellors. There website has lists of accredited counsellors that have given evidence of their training and experience to meet set standards, and are normally accountable to a professional code of conduct and complaints procedure.
    As the professional body for counselling and psychotherapy in Scotland, COSCA seeks to advance all forms of counselling and psychotherapy and the use of counselling skills by promoting best practice and through the delivery of a range of sustainable services.
  • Counselling Directory
    Counselling Directory is a searchable database of therapists offering a range of counselling and therapy services. 
  • NHS Lothian Site
    NHS Lothian Website
  • Person Centred Therapy Scotland
    The Association for Person Centred Therapy Scotland (PCTScotland) is an organisation of person-centred counsellors and psychotherapists based throughout Scotland. This site includes a directory of Person Centred Counsellors in Scotland.
  • United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy
    The UKCP's purpose is to promote the art and science of psychotherapy for the public benefit.

Phonelines Related to Counselling

  • Breathing Space

    0800 83 85 87

    A free, confidential phone line you can call when you're feeling down. They also have an excellent website which has loads of information and a self-help toolkit.

  • The Samaritans

    08457 90 90 90

    The Samaritans will not try to give you advice, judge you or tell you what to do, they will just listen and support you. They are there for anyone, especially those who are suicidal or in crisis.

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