Definition of Counselling

Definition of Counselling

A textbook definition of counselling is a contracted meeting between a client and a counsellor. The meeting happens at a set time, in an agreed place, for the sole benefit of the client.

Counselling happens:

  • at a specified time and at a specific place
  • and the sole focus of the meeting is to benefit the client.
Definition of counselling

The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, or BACP, define counselling as:

“Counselling and psychotherapy are umbrella terms that cover a range of talking therapies. They are delivered by trained practitioners who work with people over a short or long term to help them bring about effective change or enhance their wellbeing.”

Difference between Counselling and Other Helping Activities

Counselling differs from other helping relationships as it takes place within a set of boundaries.

  • Counselling is a managed activity.
  • This contract determines the date and time of sessions, how many sessions and the cost involved if it is a paid service.
  • The counsellor will also inform the client about confidentiality and what they are legally bound to disclose.
  • A counsellor will not offer advice. They believe that the answers are within the client and with the safe environment that counselling offers, the client will find them.
  • Counselling, at its core, is about building a trusting relationship where a client feels comfortable enough to talk about the difficulties they are experiencing.
  • Outside of the counsellor-client relationship, a counsellor will have regular supervision from a supervisor.

In comparison, a helping relationship is not always bound by time, advice can be offered and is not overseen by a professional body.

Boundaries in Counselling

The counselling relationship takes place within pre-defined boundaries that are outlined in a contract and agreed upon by both client and counsellor.

Boundaries help keep the relationship therapeutic and may include:

  • ethics
  • policies and procedures
  • laws and legislation
  • supervision and continued professional development of the counsellor

When asked what is counselling, I find it is an interesting question that is maybe deeper than it seems.

People in different professions use counselling skills.

Counselling vs Use of Counselling Skills

There are some fundamental differences between someone who uses counselling skills as part of their work role and a counsellor:

  • A counsellor should be qualified in counselling or working towards their qualification.
  • Clients should know that they are entering a counselling relationship and should want to be counselled.
  • Counselling and psychotherapy are always undertaken at the request of the client and no one can properly be "sent" for counselling or psychotherapy.

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What is Counselling?


Counselling is quite different from someone just listening to you.

A counsellor will contract with you, making an agreement on when the sessions will take place, how many sessions there will be, and the cost (if it is a paid service).

They will inform you about confidentiality in terms of what they can and cannot disclose.

Definition of counselling - A counsellor is different from someone who uses counselling skills or who offer other helping activities
Counsellors should have regular supervision from a supervisor who will be able to support and develop their skills and knowledge. In this sense, counselling is a managed activity. 

If you take a second to think, you would want advice from some professionals who use counselling skills, such as doctors, teachers and hairdressers.

A counsellor believes that you have the answers within you, and together you can find them.

Counselling Theories - Summary

There are a variety of approaches to counselling techniques.

One of the ethical bodies which oversee counselling and psychotherapy in the UK, The National Counselling Society, lists 15 different modalities which include:

  • Psychodynamic approaches
  • Cognitive behavioural approaches
  • Humanistic approaches
  • Integrative approaches

Psychodynamic approaches such as Transactional Analysis and Gestalt focus on how past events impact our lives today. These approaches help us look at our entire life as opposed to specific difficulties.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) works with changing negative thought patterns and replacing them with a healthier evidence-based way of seeing the world. Theories such as CBT and REBT are examples of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

Humanistic approaches focus on the individual's unique world view sometimes referred to as Phenomenology the philosophy of perception. One approach, Person-Centred therapy, focuses on the quality of the counsellor-client reationship, to help the client emotionally grow and take ownership of their destiny.

Integrative approaches - The term 'integrate' means to combine or blend. Counsellors who combine several therapeutic approaches are called integrative therapists because they draw on different models of therapy depending on what the client needs.

Why is Theory Important in Counselling Work?

Counselling theory draws on research, which evidences the effect it has on client's well-being.

Attachment and human development theory are examples of how theories conceived over 50 years ago are still relevant today.


Dale, H. (2019). Choosing a counsellor or psychotherapist. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 Apr. 2019].

National Counselling Society. (2019). Types of Therapy. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 Apr. 2019].


Page updated April 2019

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What is Counselling?