Three different counselling approaches briefly explained

This is a brief explanation of three therapeutic approaches in counselling. There are many different types offering their own way of working and ideas about human actions. Some counsellors work ‘eclectically’, drawing on many models, whilst others work ‘integratively’, blending two or more types.

If you are attending counselling, the biggest difference is whether it’s ‘directive’ (where the counsellor may suggest actions and exercises) or ‘non-directive’ (where you take the lead). It’s not possible to look at all types, but three common approaches are summarised below.


Based on the idea that our past has a bearing on our present feelings and important relationships (possibly from childhood), and may be recounted with others in later life. The counsellor aims to be neutral, giving little information about themselves, making it likely that these relationships will be echoed between yourselves, helping you work through difficulties. Developing trust is therefore essential. This type is non-directive.


Based on the principle of the counsellor providing three therapeutic ‘core-conditions’:

  •  empathy (imagining yourself in someone’s position)
  •  unconditional positive regard (warm and positive feelings regardless of behaviour)
  •  congruence (openness and honesty).

Here the relationship developed is a means of healing and change. This type is non-directive.

Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT)

Concerned with the way peoples beliefs shape their interpretation of experience. It’s aim is to change irrational or self-defeating beliefs and behaviours by altering negative ways of thinking. The counsellor might provide tasks to do between sessions that monitor emotional upsets to see what triggers them, looking for evidence for and against these thoughts, encouraging you to think in a less negative way. This type is directive.

Key to all three of these types is the relationship established, developed and maintained between you and your counsellor. Without trust and understanding it may feel difficult to open up and explore difficult emotions, so whilst it’s important to consider the counsellor’s approach and whether it might work for you, it is paramount that you feel you are working with someone you can build a therapeutic relationship with.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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