What is the difference between seeing a counsellor versus a clinical psychologist? People are often confused about how the professions differ from one another, and which is best for them.
I am a counsellor
I am a counsellor, with a background (before counselling) in philosophy. I have a bachelor's degree with Honours in philosophy, and while pursuing post-graduate research in philosophy and teaching at The University of Melbourne, I became interested in the new field of philosophical counselling. So I studied a diploma in counselling at the same time. I discovered a passion for the art,and was offered work in counselling or in teaching it by several different trainers and educators. I knew that this was the right direction and, eager to get to work, I dropped my philosophy research so as to quickly complete further counselling studies, which I did to masters level. I have now been working in the field for a decade.
What is counselling?
Counsellors are trained to help people with life problems. For example I help people with issues in their life such as direction and purpose, separation or loneliness, and so on. Counselling involves a range of skills, but in essence the deepest, if seemingly simplest, aspect is its art of listening. This means that you can unburden yourself and speak through things. That can count for much. But furthermore, you ca thereby hear yourself, in ways you usually cannot. Half our problems stem from being blind to ourselves. So you come to see yourself more clearly, so you can stop doing things that harm you, and you can guide yourself better.
The counsellor also possesses practical wisdom, both through their way of being in the world - to be a counsellor "in your bones" is a vocation, you walk about with your eyes open in particular ways, and spend years working on yourself inside and outside therapy - as well as through professional studies and training. The point is for the counsellor to become a suitable guide to others. Not a know-it-all, but somebody who is skilled at understanding others and finding ways forward. There is a practical solidity about good counselling, a focus on actually making life work.
Psychology and Psychiatry?
Counselling for life's struggles is different to treating mental health disorders. This is the difference between my work and that of a clinical psychologist. Or psychiatrist. They are mental health professionals, who working within a medical model of psychological functioning. They assess, diagnosis, treat, and in some sense manage, disorders and risks, mainly of a psychological sort. There are some cross-overs, for example there is debate about whether depression and anxiety should be seen in medical terms, and so counsellors also work with those issues as problems in living, but beyond that if you think you have a mental health disorder (or are at risk of harm) then you should seek a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist. They are trained to assess and treat the great variety of disorders, and they are linked to the many resources of the mental health system.
Philosophy and counselling?
As a counsellor with a background in philosophy, I combine philosophy and counselling. This means that alongside the skills mentioned before, I draw on philosophical insight and reflection. This is not about applying theories to your concerns, rather it is about helping you develop clarity and perspective; use your talents to their best; develop your character so as to flourish and to serve others and the world; and create a vision, a direction, a purpose, and make that real in your life. Philosophy is about greater truth and greater goodness, and living full, flourishing lives. It is living meaningfully. To combine such reflection with the skills of modern counselling makes for a powerful activity.
In recent years I have developed a passion for a new movement in mainstream psychology called positive psychology. Positive psychology measures many of the concerns of traditional philosophy - the cultivation of happiness and flourishing and meaning - and provides guidance on what to do and how to do it, to make them real in your life. So I integrate both philosophical insight and reflection, and psychological and scientific research, into my counselling.
In recent years I have expanded into coaching as well. I work with professionals to build a mindset that best leads to flourishing and success, as well as value and meaning, and creativity. This is another place where my knowledge of philosophy and positive psychology comes in full force. As I put it elsewhere, it is like personal training at the gym only for your heart, mind, and life.
It is in this context I also offer six and eight-week programs, which take a small group of people on a structured journey of personal development. This is for anybody who feels they could benefit from the themes I work through in these groups. The emphasis is practical: people come away changed, and on the way to greater change.