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Counseling Psychology

An area of psychology which focuses on nurturing the development potential of relatively healthy individuals in all areas of their lives.

While the counseling psychologist may diagnose, assess, and treat adjustment difficulties, they often address problems which are more moderate than those encountered by the clinical psychologist. Clients of counseling psychologists are people who need help coping with the stresses of everyday life, and the focus is on strengthening their existing resources rather than overcoming disorders or deficits in particular areas. The counseling psychologist may use a number of tools in treating clients, including psychotherapy, workshops in such areas as assertiveness training or communications skills, and psychological assessments. These tests are used to measure a person's aptitudes, interests, or personality characteristics and provide feedback which can facilitate the counseling process. Clients may be treated individually, in group therapy, or in family groups, depending on the nature of the problems and the specialization of the counselor. In contrast to a clinical psychotherapist, the counseling psychologist may intervene in the client's immediate environment. Also, unlike traditional psychotherapy, the relationship between counselor and client may extend to situations outside the office setting.

Counseling psychology has its roots in education and vocational guidance and has been closely linked with the use of mental testing, which is central to these fields. It has traditionally followed an educational rather than a medical model, considering those it helps as clients rather than patients. Its educational context is also evident in its emphasis on developmental models derived from the work of Erik Erikson, Robert Havighurst, Daniel Levinson, Roger Gould, and other theorists. Counseling psychologists work on helping clients remove obstacles to optimal development. A focus on adult development is helpful to many types of clients, such as women returning to the work force, or individuals undertaking second careers. Counseling psychology, paralleling a growing trend among health care providers, also advocates preventive as well remedial approaches to problems, seeking to identify "at risk" individuals and groups and intervene before a crisis occurs.

Of the psychotherapeutic models available to counseling psychology at its inception in the 1940s, Rogerian, or client-centered therapy has had the most influence. Carl Rogers, whose methods were more readily understood and adapted by counselors than those of Sigmund Freud, had a lasting influence on the techniques of vocational counseling and counseling psychology, which focus more on the process than on the outcome of the counseling relationship. Two other theoretical models that have been especially influential are decision-making theory and the social influence model. The former attempts to teach clients procedures and strategies for effective decision making, including such techniques as weighing the factors in a decision according to a numerical point system. Decision-making is related to counseling psychology's overall emphasis on problem solving.

Social influence theory, currently one of the prevailing theories in the field, involves the counselor's influence over the client based on how the client perceives him or her in terms of such factors as credibility and degree of expertise. Researchers have studied the behaviors that contribute to the counselor's social influence; the ways in which social influence can be maximized; and social influence in relation to such factors as race, gender, age, and social class. Over the years, the fields of counseling psychology and psychotherapy have begun to overlap as clinical psychologists have concentrated more on relatively healthy clients and counselors have grown to rely more heavily on psychotherapeutic techniques. There has also been a growing overlap between counseling and social work, as social workers have moved in the direction of therapeutic counseling themselves. Thus, there has been an overlap between these professions.

Most counselor training programs are offered by colleges of education rather than psychology departments. As the establishment of credentials has become more and more important (particularly with regard to payments by insurance companies), counseling psychology programs are offering (and requiring) an increased amount of training in basic psychology, which can include rigorous internship programs. Counseling psychology has its own division, Division 17, of the American Psychological Association, and its own professional publications, including The Counseling Psychologist, a quarterly, and the Journal of Counseling Psychology, which appears bimonthly.

Further Reading

Brammer, Lawrence M. Therapeutic Psychology: Fundamentals of Counseling and Psychotherapy. 5th ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1989.

Ronch, Judah L, William van Ornum, and Nicholas C. Stilwell, eds. The Counseling Sourcebook: A Practical Reference on Contemporary Issues. New York: Crossroad, 1994.

Vernon, Ann, ed. Counseling Children and Adolescents. Denver, CO: Love, 1993.

Additional topics

Psychology EncyclopediaBranches of Psychology