Definition of Counseling
There have always been counselors — people who listen to others and
help resolve difficulties — but the word does not always mean the
same thing. One hears of carpet counselors, color-coordination counselors,
pest-control counselors, financial counselors, and so on. These counselors
are most often glorified salespersons. They are to counseling what
furniture doctors are to medicine. Counseling as a profession is
relatively new. It grew out of the guidance movement, in opposition
to traditional psychotherapy. To understand what counseling is, you
must first understand these two concepts.
Guidance is the process of helping
people make important choices that affect their lives, such as choosing
a preferred life-style. While the decision-making aspect of guidance
has long played an important role in the counseling process, the concept
itself, as an often-used word in counseling, “has gone the way of ‘consumption’
in medicine” (Tyler, 1986, p. 153). It has more historical significance
than present-day usage. Nevertheless, it sometimes distinguishes a
way of helping that differs from the more encompassing word counseling.
distinction between guidance and counseling is that while guidance
focuses on helping individuals choose what they value most, counseling
focuses on helping them make changes. Much of the early work in guidance
occurred in schools: an adult would help a student make decisions,
such as deciding on a vocation or course of study. That relationship
was between unequal — teacher and pupil — and was beneficial in helping
the less-experienced person find direction in life. Similarly, children
have long received “guidance” from parents, ministers, scout leaders,
and coaches. In the process they have gained an understanding of themselves
and their world (Shertzer & Stone, 1981). This type of guidance
will never become passé; no matter what the age or stage of life, a
person often needs help in making choices. Yet such guidance is only
one part of the overall service provided by professional counseling.
Psychotherapy (or therapy) traditionally
focuses on serious problems associated with intrapsychic, internal,
and personal issues and conflicts. Characteristically, it emphasizes
the following issues (Pietrofesa, Hoffman, and Splete, 1984; Super,
- The past more than the present
- Insight more than change
- The detachment of the therapist
- The therapist’s role as an expert
and clinical psychologists generally use the term psychotherapy to
describe their work. Whether clients receive counseling or psychotherapy,
however, os often determined by the professionals who provide the service
(Trotzer & Trotzer, 1986). Some counseling theories are commonly
referred to as therapies and can be used in either a counseling or
therapy setting. There are other similarities in the counseling and
Generally, when making a distinction
between psychotherapy and counseling, you should consider two criteria.
First, psychotherapy usually involves a long-term relationship (20
to 40 sessions over a period of six months to two years) that focuses
on reconstructive change. Counseling, on the other hand, tends to be
ashort-term relationship (8 to 12 sessions spread over a period of
less than six months) and focuses on the relationship of developmental
and situational problems. Second, counseling is usually provided in
outpatient settings (nonresidential buildings, such as schools or community
agencies), whereas therapy is provided in both outpatient and inpatient
settings (residential treatment facilities such as mental hospitals).
Both the American Counseling Association
(ACA) and Division 17 (Counseling Psychology) of the American Psychological
Association (APA) have defined counseling on numerous occasions. Their
definitions contain a number of common points, some of which follow.
Counseling is a profession. Practitioners
should complete a prescribed course of study usually leading to a master’s
degree or a doctorate degree. Counselors are members of organizations
that set professional and ethical standards and promote state licensing
and certification by national associations (Wittmer & Loesch, 1986).
The process of certification and licensing and the adherence to ethical
codes assure the public that the counselor meets minimal educational
and professional standards. Counselors should possess personal qualities
of maturity, empathy, and warmth. Overall, counseling is active and
differs considerably from passively listening to problems.
Counseling deals with personal, social,
vocational, empowerment, and educational concerns. Counselors work
only in areas in which they have expertise. These areas may include
intra- and interpersonal concerns related to school or college adjustment,
mental health, aging, marriage or family issues, employment, and rehabilitation.
Counseling is conducted with persons
who are considered to function within the “normal range”. Clients have
adjustment, development, or situational concerns; and their problems
require short-term intervention. They are not considered “sick” but
“stuck”. Sometimes they just need information, but usually they are
looking for a way to clarify and use the information they already possess.
Counseling is theory-based and takes
place in a structured setting. Counselors draw from a number of theories
and work in a structured environment, such as an office setting, with
various individuals, groups and families.
Counseling is a process in which clients
learn how to make decisions and formulate new ways of behaving, feeling,
and thinking. Counselors focus on the goals their clients wish to achieve.
Clients explore their present levels of functioning and the changes
that must be made to achieve personal objectives. Thus, counseling
involves both choice and change, evolving through distinct stages such
as exploration, goal setting, and action (Brammer, 1993; Egan, 1990).
encompasses various subspecialties. Subspecialties include school
or college counseling, marriage and family counseling, mental health
counseling, gerontological counseling, rehabilitation counseling, addiction
counseling, and career counseling. Each has specific educational and
experimental requirements for the practitioners.
Thus, counseling can be more precisely
defined as a relatively short-term, interpersonal, theory-based process
of helping persons who are basically psychologically healthy resolve
developmental and situational problems. Counseling activities are guided
by ethical and legal standards and go through distinct stages from
initiation to termination . Personal, social, vocational, and educational
matters are all areas of concern; and the profession encompasses a
number of subspecialties. A practitioner must complete a required course
of study on either the master’s or doctoral level to be licensed or
certified as a professional.
Reference: Counseling: A
Comprehensive Profession, Third Edition, Samuel T. Gladding, 1996.