Practitioners often pull on elements of counselling and life coaching, depending on a client's needs. In very simple terms, both therapy and counselling cover the treatment of psychological distress with techniques that rely heavily on verbal and emotional communication.
Psychotherapy itself is guided by theories about the sources of distress and the methods needed to alleviate it. Traditionally, psychotherapy describes deeper work that explores the impact of past experiences on the way we behave today. (Unlike counselling which helps the client look at problems they are currently facing, where they are encouraged to discuss their feelings about themselves and their situation, and life coaching which helps people to focus on what is important to them right now and supports them in achieving their goals).
The most important dynamic in psychotherapeutic work is the relationship between client and therapist, first meetings often giving both an opportunity to decide if they want to work together.
There are different models of psychotherapy which have different goals. For example, 'psychosynthesis' is a model of transpersonal psychotherapy developed in the 1920's as a divergent from Freud's Psychoanalytic theory, with the underlying intent of building the self-belief of the client via a journey of transformation. Each method of treatment such as this must be judged against its own goal. Accurate and sensitive understanding of the client’s experiences and feelings is paramount. Trust, and simply a liking between the parties is key.
The style and shape of each session is very much dictated by the client’s needs and requirements and as such, there is no such thing as a typical session. A commitment to the process is invaluable, and so an agreement on the number of sessions to which the client initially commits must be agreed.
An interest in people is an obvious requisite quality, but also an active interest in one's own psychological process and arena of exploration into how we personally function. An ability to trust one's intuitive responses, keeping a clear head under pressure and some bravery are also unquestionably useful. Sessions can be very challenging and whilst compassion and sensitivity are obviously key, so is the capacity to think straight and remain strong for the client. A difficult balance to maintain sometimes. The reward is to witness huge life-changing breakthroughs, through to small but subtle realisations that have profound effects on a client's life.
Post Graduate Diploma courses are available at various institutions, both on a part and full-time basis. The training is divided into two parts, with the first concentrating on ‘personal development’ whilst the second is concerned with the actual skills of becoming a counsellor. The science behind this is that in order to be useful and able to help another you first need to understand how you work yourself. A greater understanding of how your childhood and life experience have had an impact on you, to isolate strengths and weaknesses within yourself and generally to gain a greater understanding of who you are. The second stage continues this process whilst focusing on actual ‘skills’. Towards the end of the course, the student will need to have found either a placement or have independently found clients as a training therapist in order to have logged a minimum amount of client hours.