Counseling psychology focuses on nurturing the development of relatively healthy individuals in all areas of their lives.
Although counseling psychologists may diagnose, assess, and treat adjustment difficulties, they typically focuse on helping clients with less serious psychopathology. Clients of counseling psychologists may need help coping with the stresses of everyday life; treatment centers on strengthening the clients’ existing resources rather than overcoming disorders or deficits. Counseling psychologists use a number of tools to treat clients, including psychotherapy; workshops in areas such as assertiveness training or communications skills; and psychological, career, academic or aptitude assessments. These tests are used to measure people's skills, interests, or personality characteristics; they provide feedback that may clarify the goals of the counseling process. In contrast to clinical psychotherapists, counseling psychologists may intervene in clients’ immediate environment. Unlike traditional boundaries in patient-therapist relationships, the interaction between counselors and clients may extend to situations outside the office setting.
Counseling psychology has its roots in education and vocational guidance and has been closely linked with aptitude and ability testing. This field of psychology has traditionally followed an educational rather than a medical model, viewing those it helps as clients who require education rather than patients with a behavioral health disorder. This educational focus is also evident in its emphasis on developmental models derived from the work of Erik Erikson (1902–1994), Daniel Levinson (1920–1994), and other theorists. Counseling psychologists work on aiding clients to remove obstacles to development. Focus on adult development is helpful to many types of clients, such as individuals returning to the work force, veterans returning home, or those who are undertaking second careers. Counseling psychology parallels a growing trend among healthcare providers. Preventative as well as remedial approaches to problems are becoming central as psychologists seek to identify at-risk individuals and groups in order to intervene before a crisis occurs.
Social influence theory, a prevailing framework in this field, involves counselors' influence over clients. Psychologists who use this theory consider how their clients perceive the counselor in terms of factors such as credibility and degree of expertise. Researchers have studied the behaviors that contribute to counselors' social influence and, consequently, the ways in which social influence can be used in therapy. Race, gender, age, and social class are all useful ways for matching clients with therapists. Over the years, the fields of counseling psychology and psychotherapy began to overlap; clinical psychologists also treat relatively healthy clients and counselors rely progressively more heavily on psychotherapeutic techniques. There also was a growing overlap between counseling and social work, as social workers often train to do therapeutic counseling.
Many counselor training programs are offered by colleges of education rather than psychology departments. As the establishment of credentials became more and more important (particularly with regard to payments by insurance companies), counseling psychology programs were offering and requiring an increased amount of training in basic clinical psychology, which can include rigorous internship programs. Counseling psychology has its own category, Division 17, of the American Psychological Association. It also has its own professional publications, including The Counseling Psychologist, a quarterly, and the Journal of Counseling Psychology, which appears bimonthly.
See also Assessment, psychological ; Clinical psychology ; Rogers, Carl; Social influence .
Altmaier, Elizabeth M., and Jo-Ida C. Hansen. The Oxford Handbook of Counseling Psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
Butler, Gillian, and Freda McManus. Psychology. New York: Sterling, 2011.