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Counselling and psychiatrists

Counselling and psychotherapy are terms used to describe two disciplines that are often very similar and may overlap in their purpose and practice. Both should provide a safe, non-judgmental place for you to explore thoughts and feelings you have about your illness or any other concerns.

Generally speaking, counsellors and therapists are not there to give advice but rather to support you in making your own decisions and working through whatever you need to deal with. As a rough generalisation, psychotherapy tends to be longer term and may involve looking at issues on a deeper level than counselling. However, both can be short or long term and can focus on a specific issue (such as hepatitis C) or they can be more general in nature. To some extent, this may be up to you to decide - although individual therapists may have their own specific ways of working.

Some counsellors and psychotherapists will have experience and therefore greater awareness of relevant issues of working with people with chronic illness. You can either check their resume in the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) or The UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) directories, or ask them yourself when you first make contact with them.

The training of both counsellors and psychotherapists varies enormously. There are many types of training and qualifications in both fields. If you want to check that they are fully qualified, you can ask them whether they are accredited by one of the recognised professional bodies such as BACP or UKCP. Both can be accessed on the NHS, but you will need a referral from your doctor. Within the private sector, many therapists have sliding scales and fees can be discussed at your first meeting - do check the cost of the initial session before booking it!

Psychiatrists

Psychiatrists are trained in all aspects of mental health. They are able to assess people in terms of their mental and emotional needs and if appropriate refer you to a counsellor or psychotherapist. Where necessary they are also able to prescribe medication such as antidepressants.

You can be referred to a psychiatrist by your GP if you feel you need some additional help or support in coping with anxiety, depression, addictions, mood swings or any other emotional or mental concern. Some gastroenterology departments may also have a psychiatrist as part of their team.