Counselling and Psychology

Differences Between CBT and Counselling

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As per Mind, “1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England. 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (like anxiety and depression) in any given week in England.”

The number of people suffering from mental health problems is increasing, and the reason behind this can be any from financial difficulties to breakups and divorces to the death of their loved ones. With the increasing mental health issues, people’s need for psychological therapy like CBT and counselling is also increasing.

Some of the most common mental health conditions are depression, PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety disorder.

If you are reading this blog, it means either you or someone belonging to you is suffering from mental health issues, or you are looking forward to building a career in CBT or counselling. To move forward with either the treatment or the career, you need to know the difference between CBT and counselling.

Give this blog a read to know how CBT is different from counselling.

A man is stressed about various issues going on in his mind

What is Counselling?

Counselling is a talking therapy where a trained counsellor will evaluate the patients’ mental health by having a detailed conversation with them. In these sessions, patients share their experiences, views, and problems and get help in managing their difficult emotions.

What is Counselling Used For?

Counsellors use counselling to help people deal with mental health problems. Mental health problems include depression, eating disorders, physical health conditions (infertility), complex life events (breakup, work pressure), difficult emotions (low self-esteem, anger) and anxiety.

Counselling seeks to make people feel heard and understood and think about having their feelings validated. By talking to the patients about their feelings and past experiences, and counsellors try to understand the underlying issues behind their mental health problems.

Counsellors attempt to read their clients to provide a secure environment in which they can explore their deepest feelings, which helps the counsellors find out the root of the problems the patients face.

A woman taking her psychological counselling


What is the Training for Counselling?

A counsellor is a trained individual whose primary job is to listen to patients and give advice on their problems. Listening, showing empathy, maintaining a non-judgemental attitude, and staying patient and calm are skills that counselors are trained in.

To become a professional counselor, one needs to complete a three to five-year education program either through a diploma or a degree programme. Qualification requires obtaining a minimum amount of client hours during a work placement.

The course begins with an overview of counselling. This can take up to three months, but if you have prior experience, you may be able to skip this step. Then you apply for a one-year certificate in counselling skills, followed by a two-year diploma in counselling (two to three years). Alternatively, you might obtain training by enrolling in a university counselling programme. (

Two psychiatrists providing treatments to patients with different levels of mental illness

What is CBT?

CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) is a highly structured psychological therapy that focuses on changing automatic negative thoughts, which can affect persons’ mental health. It finds out the toxic thoughts negatively influencing the lives of their patients and tries to fix them with positive and productive thoughts.

What is CBT Used For?

Therapists generally use CBT for treating mental health issues like anxiety, depression, OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), eating disorders, phobias and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

Its aim is to change the way a person thinks. Our thoughts can influence the way we feel. So, changing the way we think can also change the way we feel about ourselves, which helps to deal with our mental health issues.

Negative feelings cause harm to our mental health. Here, CBT is used to help people improve their negative attitudes toward themselves and their surroundings. Further, CBT is used to change the Negative way we think about ourselves or our surroundings.

What is the Training for CBT?

According to BABCP, “To train in CBT, your background should include working in health or social care, and a degree or equivalent level of academic achievement. People training in CBT will already have an understanding of research, theories of human development, human problems and distress, as well as social context, for example.”

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The BABCP recognises some specific mental health backgrounds. These are called “Core Professions”. The core professions list include- Arts therapist, Counselling, Medicine, Occupational Therapy, Psychotherapy, Registered Nurse, Social work, Postgraduate Doctorate in Clinical/Counselling Psychology, Educational Psychology, Health Psychology, and Forensic Psychology.

The professions mentioned here have a considerable amount of mental health training and meet accreditation requirements for knowledge and experience in mental health.

What is the Difference Between CBT and Counselling?

CBT focuses on the patient’s current situation, attempting to change a habit or thought pattern. It enables patients to recognise and investigate how their thoughts influence their actions and then change their negative thinking habits. Meanwhile, in counselling, counsellors are more interested in the patients’ previous experiences.

As a result, counsellors frequently require patients to delve deeply into their feelings in order to determine the root cause of their problems. Further, counsellors are responsible for providing a secure environment for patients to talk about and, ultimately, understand their complex feelings.

6 Differences Between CBT and Counselling?

DefinitionCBT aims to change the negative and harmful thought patterns and behaviours, which gradually helps the patients deal with their mental health issues.Counselling involves listening to the patients carefully and empathetically, finding the reasons behind the mental health problems, and finally working on them.
TargetCBT aims to change the thinking patterns of the patients.Counselling works by listening to the patients with empathy while encouraging them.
TimeIt is brief and time-constrained.Counselling can take months or even years to get the desired result.
FocusCBT focuses on the present problems.Counselling focuses on the previous life experiences of the patients.
StructureIt is highly structured.Counsellors usually go with the flow of the conversation.
PurposeThe primary purpose of going for CBT is to change how you behave or think.The primary purpose of going for counselling is to get good advice.
ResultA CBT therapist will emphasise helping you to become your own therapist.The counsellor will teach you how to deal with your problems.
BenefitsIt is easy to see the benefits of CBT.The benefits of counselling take time to show as it is a lengthy process.

Can a Counsellor use CBT?

Some psychological therapists use CBT as part of their therapy sessions. Counsellors can expedite the counselling process by incorporating CBT since both approaches aim to address similar types of mental health disorders. Counsellors can also utilise CBT to assist patients in developing self-esteem.

If a counsellor believes that CBT can treat a patient more effectively than traditional counselling, they can use it to speed up the process. It could also be used to assist patients in developing more rational mental strategies.

Counsellors are obliged to bring positive changes in the patients’ lives. To make the counselling process more fruitful, a counsellor may use CBT. But CBT is not for people with difficulties in learning or more complex mental health needs.


Both talking therapies, CBT and Counselling, have differences and similarities. While CBT focuses more on making a change by identifying, challenging, and replacing negative thoughts with more objective and realistic ideas, counselling prefers to work by going through the patients’ past experiences thoroughly and carefully.

For some people, CBT can work better than counselling and in other cases, counselling can work better than CBT. However, the benefits of CBT show up faster than counselling, as it may take a long time for the gains from counselling to show up.

While counsellors often let the patients open up about their feelings, emotions, and past experiences, CBT therapists focus on the present state of the patients’ mental health.


Is CBT the same as cognitive therapy?

Answer- No, CBT is not the same as Cognitive Therapy. Cognitive Therapy is combined with Behavioural Therapy in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

Is cognitive-behavioural therapy the same as counselling?

Answer- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is not the same as counselling. Refer to the sub-heading ‘6 Differences between CBT and counselling’ to know what makes CBT and counselling different.

What are the 5 steps of CBT?

The 5 steps of CBT include-

  • Making a list of unproductive thoughts
  • Recording unproductive thoughts
  • Creating replacement thoughts
  • Reading the list often
  • Noticing and replacing the thoughts

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