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The Differences Between CBT vs Counselling

Written by Sarah Norman

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  • Therapy
  • psychiatry
  • wellbeing

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Jan 31, 2024, 9 min read

There are many different therapy options offering a range of benefits, both for those with mental health conditions and anyone who would like to be proactive with their mental health. With so many choices, it can be difficult to decide which type of therapy is right for you, so we aim to demystify some of these options so you can make an informed choice. 

You may have heard of the term ‘counselling’ before, and a common type of therapy called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, otherwise known as CBT. Here, we are breaking down what both of these are, the pros and cons of each, what they are used for, who can provide counselling or CBT, how to know which option is best for you, and how to access both. 

CBT vs Counselling

At Augmentive, we aim to provide holistic, tailored mental health support to everyone so they can live their life to the fullest, so if you have questions about different therapy options, we’re here to help. 

What is CBT? 

CBT stands for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and this is a type of talking therapy that is commonly used to treat various mental health conditions. The idea behind this therapy is to teach coping skills and focus on how your thoughts, beliefs and attitudes affect your feelings and behaviours. Essentially, how you think about situations affects the way you feel about them, and subsequently affects the way you behave. 

CBT combines two existing types of therapy; Cognitive Therapy, which looks at the way you think, and Behaviour Therapy, which looks at the actions you take. 

By combining both types of therapy, you can: 

  • Identify the feelings and situations that contribute to your negative thoughts 
  • Practice coping skills to help with future difficult scenarios 
  • Set goals to improve your physical health, mental health, and life in general
  • Learn problem-solving skills to help you tackle future stressful situations 
  • Learn to self-monitor to track your behaviours, symptoms and experiences so you can learn from these 

One of the main goals of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is to help people understand that they can’t control what happens around them, but they can take control of the way they react to the things around them and how they feel about them. 

What is CBT used for?

CBT is a common treatment that is used for a number of mental health issues. A few examples of the type of conditions CBT can help to treat include:

CBT vs counselling pros and cons

What are the advantages of CBT?

There are many benefits to opting for a course of CBT, for example: 

  • Effectiveness – CBT has been shown to be effective in a number of scenarios; studies have found it to be a useful treatment for childhood anxiety disorder, provide short-term relief of perinatal depression symptoms, help to treat substance use disorders, and more. Studies have also shown CBT to be the most consistently supported and most recommended psychotherapeutic option for treating anxiety disorders, so there is plentiful evidence of its efficacy. 
  • Practicality – CBT is a highly practical therapy which offers solutions that can be applied immediately to everyday life. Its progress can be easily identified. 
  • Length of therapy – A course of CBT typically lasts between 5 and 20 sessions, so it is a convenient option for many people as it often has a shorter waiting list on the NHS. For this reason, it may also be more affordable than other types of therapy if you choose to use a private service. 
  • Ease of accessCBT can be delivered in-person, on the phone, online via a video call, in a group or individually, and there are also books and other resources to support learning. 

What are the disadvantages of CBT? 

Although CBT is thought to be extremely helpful in a number of situations, all types of therapy have downsides. These might include: 

  • Time commitment – Although CBT is one of the shorter courses of therapy available, it still takes time. Simply showing up to sessions will not lead to results, so you need to apply what you learn outside of therapy sessions and take control of your own progress, which does take time and effort. 
  • Structure – Although many prefer the structure of a course of CBT, others may find this feels restrictive, in which case more open-ended counselling (more on this below) could be a better fit.
  • Suitability – CBT has been proven to be effective in a wide range of cases, but it will not work for everyone. Those who are not open to the concepts, do not put in effort outside of sessions to apply them, and who have more complex mental health needs or specific conditions may find that CBT does not work for them.  
  • Focus – While CBT is focused on the person learning to manage their thoughts, feelings and behaviours, this type of therapy does not touch on other factors that may influence those things, such as family issues, traumatic life events, childhood adversity, and more.

What about DBT?

Under the larger umbrella of CBT sits Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT). This is a slightly modified version of CBT that focuses on teaching people how to be more present, live in the moment, and develop healthy coping mechanisms for stress and emotional regulation.

It was originally designed to treat a condition called Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), but has since expanded to help with other mental health issues too. For those who have not seen improvements (or have seen only minimal improvements) with CBT, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy could be another more effective option to explore, particularly for those with more complex mental health conditions

What is counselling?

Counselling is another form of talking therapy which involves discussing your thoughts, feelings and behaviours with a professional, and on the surface it may seem largely similar to CBT. The difference is that while CBT is focused on addressing and changing current negative thought patterns and behaviours through a structured course of therapy, counselling is more open-ended, and involves the person talking to a trained counsellor who can listen, empathise and help them dive into the underlying reasons for their issues in order to start tackling them. Put simply:

CBT = Focuses on addressing issues through changing thoughts and behaviours 

Counselling = Focuses on addressing the root cause of issues through talking 

Counselling essentially offers a safe space where a person can speak openly about their thoughts and experiences without fear of judgement, put memories and feelings into a different context, make sense of them, and ultimately resolve or learn to manage them in daily life. 

CBT and counselling can work together

What are the advantages of counselling?

There are a number of benefits to pursuing counselling, including:

  • Flexibility – Unlike CBT, counselling is less structured and so it may be a better fit for those who would like to dive deeper on particular experiences without being restricted to a certain number of sessions. 
  • Ease of access – Like CBT, counselling can be delivered in-person, or online via a video call, making it accessible to many people. 
  • Exploration – Counselling is designed to be open-ended and form a long-term counsellor-patient relationship in order to focus on exploring many facets of a person’s life. It is designed to be more reflective and explorative than CBT. 

What are the disadvantages of counselling?

Many people can benefit from counselling, but it too has its downsides. These can include: 

  • Emotional upheaval – The nature of counselling means talking about difficult and potentially upsetting subjects, which poses a risk of unlocking negative emotions without resolving them before the end of a session. 
  • Less practical – As counselling is open-ended, there is no sense of working towards a practical solution. Often sessions will continue indefinitely, and although this can lead to further breakthroughs, it may be difficult to plan ahead. 
  • Restricted access – Unlike CBT, counselling often requires a one-on-one session rather than a group session, and there are fewer ways to carry on learning outside of counselling, such as from books. 

What is counselling used for?

Counselling can be used in a number of scenarios. As well as for various mental health concerns, it is also sought by those who may not have a particular issue they want to work on but who would like to pre-emptively look after their mental health. 

Counselling can offer time to reflect on challenging life events, discuss relationship issues and their possible solutions, address trauma, work on everyday emotions keeping you stuck (such as low self-esteem or lack of confidence), and more. 

Who can provide CBT or counselling? 

Both CBT and counselling can be delivered by a mental health professional who has been trained in such disciplines, such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, mental health nurse or someone else. Many therapists will train in multiple disciplines in order to provide support for a wide range of mental health conditions through various types of therapy, and they will choose the best form for you based on your situation, therapy goals and preferences. 

Choosing between CBT vs counselling

What is the best choice for me? 

According to figures from the NHS between 2021 and 2022, there was a 21.5% rise in the number of people accessing talking therapies, so both CBT and counselling have become more popular in recent years. Of course, just because something is the most popular and most recommended, does not mean this is right for you. 

Finding the right therapy solution for yourself is not an easy task. While there is always the option to guess based on what you believe to be the ideal type of therapy, it is sometimes best to learn more about the different forms of therapy available and what these might look like in reality. By doing so, you will have a better idea of the combination of issues you would like to address, can attend sessions feeling confident that you can reach your therapy goals, and not worry about wasting time and money on the wrong type of therapy. 

Don’t be afraid to speak to knowledgeable people who can offer their advice on what the best type of therapy might be for you. This could be your GP if you have had discussions about your mental health, or you can reach out to a service such as our free 15 minute consultation to help you figure out the most relevant therapist for you. Our trained therapists can listen to your situation, needs and goals, and put you in touch with the person who is the best match for you based on their credentials, experience and specialty. 

How do I access CBT or counselling? 

It can be difficult to know where to begin when seeking any type of therapy, but know there are a number of steps you can take and services that can help:

  • Start by researching the types of therapy that could be helpful for your specific needs and situation. Our blog is a good place for this if you have questions about certain mental health conditions.  
  • Speak to your GP about any mental health concerns to see what may be available in your area to help. Often accessing CBT or counselling through the NHS has a lengthy wait time, so the sooner you sign up for this the better. 
  • Allow your GP to refer you to any additional services in your area that could help, such as specific support groups, and if you are struggling with your mental health, speak to them about other options such as time off work, medication, and more – you should never feel you have to ignore mental health concerns due to lack of access to services, so ask what else they can do for you. 
  • If you are interested in using a private service, our free 15 minute consultation can point you in the direction of the best CBT therapist or counsellor for you, and get you started with the therapy option that best suits your needs. 
Accessing CBT and counselling

If you have a question about mental health, like how to find the right specialist to help you, we’re here to assist on your journey. Our free 15 minute consultation can guide you to the most relevant specialists to answer your questions and discuss next steps.

Whether you’re feeling off-kilter or want to shake up your routine, our state-of-the-art mental wellbeing platform gives you quick and seamless access to world-class support on your terms, from private mental health assessments and reviews, to finding qualified and approved mental health professionals for the support you need.

Not sure where to start?

We offer a free 15 minute consultation so that we can guide you to the most relevant professionals