Counselling and psychotherapy definitions

PACFA members are clinical therapists building valuable therapeutic relationships with clients to assist them in addressing challenges. PACFA therapists use various modalities drawing upon different resources, philosophical approaches and advanced training undertaken by the practitioner. Internationally, and in Australia, there are a wide range of definitions of counselling and psychotherapy, as practice and its understanding varies. Below are definitions developed by PACFA’s colleges which may aid understanding and client choice of a clinician. Most important for any client seeking support is their personal connection with the therapist, as this forms the basis for any assessment and intervention(s) used by the clinician to facilitate change and empower clients.

What is counselling?
PACFA's College of Counselling has developed this definition of counselling:

Professional counselling is a safe and confidential collaboration between qualified counsellors and clients to promote mental health and wellbeing, enhance self-understanding, and resolve identified concerns.

Clients are active participants in the counselling process at every stage. Counsellors work with children, young people, adults, couples, families and groups. Counselling may be short term, long term, or over a lifetime, according to clients’ needs.

Counsellors are fully present with their clients, using empathy and deep listening to establish positive working relationships. Counselling is effective when clients feel safe, understood, respected, and accepted without judgement. Counselling is a profession with a strong evidence base. Counsellors use empirically supported interventions and specialised interpersonal skills to facilitate change and empower clients.

Counsellors are trained in a range of modalities to work with clients from diverse backgrounds. Counselling can be broad or focused.

Clients may explore: aspects of identity, spirituality, relationships with self and others, past experiences, parenting, grief and loss, trauma, domestic violence, child abuse, use of alcohol and other substances, depression, anxiety, and other experiences.

Changes facilitated by counselling include: change in perspective, new insight, new ways of thinking about situations, new awareness of feelings, enhanced capacity to tolerate and regulate feelings, new actions or behaviours, and new decisions about life.

PACFA registered counsellors have completed an undergraduate or postgraduate counselling qualification. They are expected to participate in ongoing professional development and supervision, including their own counselling, to stay current with developments in their profession and to ensure safe, ethical practice.

*Confidentiality is limited when there are risks to the safety of the client or others.

Download the College of Counselling’s definition of counselling.

What is psychotherapy?

 PACFA's College of Psychotherapy has developed this definition of psychotherapy:

Psychotherapy is a holistic engagement that focuses on the mental, emotional, relational or spiritual health of a human being. It is useful when psychological, developmental, relationship and wellbeing issues arise in life. A psychotherapist engages with a person or group in a process of working together to build understanding and acceptance of how the person makes meaning of their life. Together they create life giving solutions to old and new problems.

What does the psychotherapist do?

 A psychotherapist and client work together to understand conscious and unconscious aspects of the present lived experience of the client. A key element of the practice of psychotherapy is the relationship between the therapist and the client. This process may include looking at how earlier experiences impact on the person’s daily life and future. Together they may refer to personal story, experiences in family of origin, relationship history, imagination, illness as well as sexuality, spirituality, ethnicity and culture.

What issues does the psychotherapist deal with?

 Many people come to a psychotherapist because they are experiencing discomfort, dissatisfaction or suffering in their lives. Some come seeking further development. Psychotherapists work with people who have a wide range of presenting concerns: depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, eating problems, illness, addiction, trauma, abuse, relationship difficulties in personal life or at work, communication, intimacy and commitment problems.

What outcomes may be expected?

Psychotherapy supports a process of change. A person may come to understand patterns of discomfort, dissatisfaction or suffering in their life. They may make meaning from this and be more able to make conscious choices that lead to a different experience of themselves and the world. A person can develop a greater capacity to be in charge of their life, empowered and self-directing, and experience increasing joy, meaning, peace of mind and heart, purposefulness, insight and self-knowledge. The process of psychotherapy addresses symptom reduction in a person’s life. In addition, it goes further and addresses the causes of longstanding patterns, supporting improved functioning.

What training do psychotherapists have?

A psychotherapist will have extensive and lengthy training in one or more psychotherapeutic modalities which draw on a theoretical base that is well recognized. The training will have involved the psychotherapist in their own process of psychotherapy and close supervision during their learning. Psychotherapists continue supervision, professional development and involvement in a community of psychotherapists throughout their professional life. Psychotherapists abide by a Code of Ethics for professional practice.

The training curriculum will have included extensive practical clinical skills and the integration of theories of psychotherapy, human development, and human diversity. A sound familiarity with relevant current research in psychotherapy and rigorous ethical discernment are all important components of training in the profession of psychotherapy.

What modalities of psychotherapy exist?

There are various psychotherapy modalities. Participating members of the Working Party for the College of Psychotherapy have been drawn from the following modalities within PACFA: • Buddhist Psychotherapy • Gestalt Therapy • Psychodrama • Somatic Psychotherapy • Soul Centred Psychotherapy • Transactional Analysis • Transpersonal and Experiential Psychotherapy

Download the College of Psychotherapy’s psychotherapy definition.