How to access private counselling or psychotherapy in Ireland

Some people turn to private counselling when public options aren’t available or suitable for them, but it can be difficult to know where to start

Written by spunout


If you have been living with mental or emotional distress that is impacting your wellbeing, making the decision to get support in the form of counselling or psychotherapy is a brave and positive step to take. Unfortunately, there are sometimes waiting lists for accessing therapy through the HSE, which can be really discouraging. Some people will decide to go to private counselling or psychotherapy so they can get the support they need quicker and without needing a referral through their GP. Private therapy isn’t tied to a specific number of sessions or a particular frequency of sessions and private counsellors and psychotherapists sometimes work outside normal office hours like weekends and evenings which some people find helpful. 

While there are benefits to going private for mental health support, it also comes with some challenges. First, the costs associated with private counselling and psychotherapy mean that these services are not accessible or affordable options for many people. However, therapists registered with professional bodies like the Irish Council of Psychotherapy (ICP) are covered under some health insurance policies so that some costs can be claimed back. Many private therapists offer sliding cost scales based on what you can afford, and therapy is also a Tax deductible health expense.

Second, if you can afford it, the process of searching for a therapist in your area and deciding which therapist is best suited to your needs can be really confusing. A lot of the language and terms used are difficult to understand. You might be wondering what the difference is between a counsellor and a psychotherapist, for example. Therapists can have different letters after their names depending on the type of training they have completed and which professional bodies recognise their qualifications. There are also a range of different types of therapy that a therapist can practice. 

Not all therapists are trained in the same way or have the same qualifications. That’s why learning about the language used in the world of counselling and therapy can help you find the right support for your needs.  

What is the difference between a counsellor and a psychotherapist?

People often use the terms counselling and psychotherapy to mean the same thing, but this is changing and many people in the psychology community in Ireland and the minister for health now recognise counselling and psychotherapy as different disciplines. CORU, Ireland’s register for health professionals, are currently setting up two separate registers for counsellors and psychotherapists. The main differences between counselling and psychotherapy are the issues they deal with, the therapeutic approach they use, the depth of work they do and the standard of qualification someone needs to practice them. 

Counselling is usually best suited to short-term or immediate life crises like grief, break-ups, relationship issues, or issues at work. Psychotherapy explores mental health issues in more depth. This approach is more suited to mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, and can also support people with experiences like abuse or trauma.

How do I know if a counsellor or psychotherapist is qualified?

If you are searching for a counsellor or psychotherapist, you should first make sure that they are accredited with a professional body. In Ireland, there are a number of professional bodies that provide accreditation for psychotherapists and counsellors. These professional bodies set standards for how much education and training, professional practice, and self-therapy are required to become a recognised counsellor or psychotherapist. They also set out codes of ethics and procedures for handling complaints that all of their members agree to follow. When an individual has been accredited by one of these groups, it means that they meet their professional standards and they are qualified to provide a high-quality professional service. 

The Irish Council for Psychotherapy is the main professional body for all psychotherapists in Ireland. Psychotherapists who are accredited by the Irish Council for Psychotherapy will have ‘ICP’ after their name. ICP registered Psychotherapists have all trained to Masters level, are compliant with all European Association of Psychotherapy (EAP) European standards for Psychotherapy and will have completed 7 years of training before beginning their independent practice.

The Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy is another professional body which covers both psychotherapists and counsellors. Professionals who are accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy will have ‘IACP’ after their name.   

What types of therapy can psychotherapists provide?

Mental health professionals use a wide range of therapeutic approaches to help people improve their mental health. Each approach works in a different way and comes with its own standards of training. The ICP recognises 5 types of therapy that psychotherapists can train in. 

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) works on the premise that our thoughts affect our behaviours and feelings, and that our thoughts are shaped by how we perceive our life circumstances or situations.

In CBT, you and your therapist work together to empower you to improve your quality of life. The therapist will help you develop effective strategies and skills to resolve problems that are causing you distress. 

CBT can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including anxiety disorders (like post traumatic stress disorder and OCD), eating disorders, phobias and depression. Each session lasts between 30 and 60 minutes

Constructivist Therapy

Constructivist therapy aims to ease people’s distress by helping them make sense of their past experiences. It is based on the idea that the stories you experience and live out are shaped by the different ways you make meaning of your life. In constructivist therapy, your therapist aims to understand what predictions you are making in your daily life and spot ones that might be causing problems for you. These predictions could be about yourself, what will happen next or what people around you will think or do. The therapist will then work with you to develop alternative, less problematic predictions and ways of acting. 

Constructivist therapy can be used to help with a range of issues, including grief, trauma, and mental health issues like depression. 

Couple and Family Therapy

Unlike individual therapies, couple and family therapy, often called systemic family therapy, can include couples or entire families in the therapy process. Psychotherapists can also use this approach to work with individuals. This approach looks at couples and families as systems that can have an impact on the lives of the members of that system. 

When two or more people live close to one another, differences, and conflicts can often happen. If there is something causing emotional or psychological distress within a couple or family system, the therapist will support all of the members of the system to explore it together. This process will help the members of the system to understand and make sense of their experiences and their relationship to others. People usually engage in this form of therapy for a relatively small number of meetings with about two to four weeks between appointments. 

Humanistic and Integrative Therapy

Humanistic and integrative therapy, aims to understand you as a whole person including your body, feelings and mind. This therapeutic approach focuses on the inner value of every person. You are also seen as constantly growing and changing as a person as you move through life. The goal of this therapy is to figure out what might be preventing you from being the real you on the inside and on the outside. Humanistic and integrative therapy can be used to treat a range of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, panic disorders, personality disorders, schizophrenia, addiction, and interpersonal and familial relationship concerns.

Psychoanalytic Therapy

Psychoanalytic therapy helps people better understand their unconscious emotions and motivations, which in turn can help them understand their thoughts, behaviours, and actions. Psychoanalytic therapy is mainly used to treat long-standing conditions like depression, but can also be used to treat anxiety (i.e. panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc.). Psychoanalytic therapy could take up to two years of sessions to complete. 

How to access private mental health treatment without a referral

If you want to find a counsellor or psychotherapist, it’s important to find someone who is accredited with a professional body so you know they’re qualified. Therapists expect to be asked questions about their qualifications, the professional body they belong to, their fees and policies before someone starts therapy with them. This means that you can ask as many questions as you need before deciding if you would like to work with them. 

The ICP has a national register of psychotherapists on their website that contains a list of all the psychotherapists who are currently accredited by them. Their register has a helpful search function which allows you to find psychotherapists who are in your county. You can also search by gender, language, which mental health issues they work with and whether or not they take private referrals.

The IACP has a similar register of accredited counsellors and psychotherapists that you can search on the homepage of their website. You can search for therapists who offer either in-person or online/telephone support. Their register also contains information on the cost per session with each of their therapists and whether or not their prices are negotiable. Some therapists will provide therapy at reduced rates for people with lower income like students and people who aren’t working full-time.  

MyMind provide affordable counselling and psychotherapy in a number of centres across Ireland. They also provide online therapy across the country. The fees for receiving therapy through MyMind are calculated on a sliding scale, meaning how much you pay is based on your financial means. 

Feeling overwhelmed and want to talk to someone?

If you are a customer of the 48 or An Post network or cannot get through using the ‘50808’ short code please text HELLO to 086 1800 280 (standard message rates may apply). Some smaller networks do not support short codes like ‘50808’.

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