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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) vs Counselling: Understanding the Differences

Updated: Feb 23, 2023

CBT (Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy) and Counselling are two popular approaches to mental health treatment that help individuals overcome various emotional and psychological challenges. While they share some similarities, they also have their distinct differences and each may be more or less appropriate for you depending on your circumstances.

Both therapies involve sharing your challenges with someone who is trained in providing you with a safe, non-judgemental space to identify your problems and work towards helping yourself.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT):

CBT is a highly structured, goal-oriented, approach which aims to equip you with specific tools to help yourself in the ‘every day’. It is a collaborative partnership between you and the therapist, working together towards the goals of your choosing, and helps individuals to identify and modify negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviours.

The central idea behind CBT is that negative thoughts and behaviours influence each other and create a vicious cycle that can be broken by changing the way one thinks.

CBT is a highly effective treatment for a wide range of psychological difficulties, such as depression, generalised anxiety and chronic worry, OCD, health anxiety, social anxiety, panic, specific phobias (eg heights, spiders, driving), perfectionism, low self-esteem and anger.


On the other hand, counselling is a more long-term, exploratory therapy that helps individuals to gain insight into their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. It is often helpful if you are adjusting to difficult circumstances, for example bereavement or redundancy, or perhaps are struggling with difficult relationships.

Unlike CBT, counselling is not focused on specific goals or a set treatment plan. Instead, the counselling process is open-ended and allows individuals to explore their emotions, thoughts, and experiences at their own pace.

Counselling is a broad term that encompasses various therapeutic approaches, including person-centred therapy, psychodynamic therapy, and existential therapy, to name a few. This approach is typically used to treat a wide range of mental health issues, including stress, grief, relationship issues, and low self-esteem.

Key Differences between CBT and Counselling

1. Focus: CBT focuses on the present and helps individuals to identify and modify negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviours, whereas counselling focuses on exploring the past and gaining insight into one's thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.

2. Length of Treatment: CBT is a short-term therapy that usually lasts between 12-20 sessions, while counselling is a longer-term therapy that may last several months or even years.

3. Treatment Approach: CBT is a structured, goal-oriented approach that follows a set treatment plan, while counselling is an open-ended, exploratory approach that allows individuals to explore their emotions and thoughts at their own pace.

4. Effectiveness: Both CBT and counselling have been shown to be highly effective in treating a wide range of mental health disorders. However, the specific approach that is best for a particular individual will depend on the nature of their specific issue and their individual needs and preferences.

In conclusion, CBT and counselling are both highly effective approaches to mental health treatment that can help individuals to overcome various emotional and psychological challenges. The choice between CBT and counselling will depend on an individual's specific needs, preferences, and the nature of their mental health issue. It's important to discuss your options with a mental health professional to determine which approach is best for you.

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