Psychology Topics > Counseling Psychology
Counseling Psychology is a specific field of psychology that focuses on a wide variety of mental health issues. Although counseling psychologists mainly deal with clients suffering from depression, anxiety, family or social problems, or vocational problems, counseling psychologists are also trained to treat mental problems that would be considered more severe such as schizophrenia. Counseling psychologists differ from other branches in psychology because of their approach to mental illness. They focus on wellness and strengths of individuals rather than mental deficiencies. Counseling psychologists also set themselves apart from clinical psychologists because they stress preventative care with individuals and communities. Whereas clinical psychologists focus on treating the problems and or symptoms, counseling psychologists want to prevent the problems from occurring in the first place.
Counseling psychology has so many antecedents that it is difficult to explain its conception. For example, counseling psychology uses many of the theories and techniques of predesessing psychologists such as Sigmund Freud and Eric Erickson. Vocational psychology also played a vital role in the development or counseling psychology. After World War II, people needed help with training and job placement in order to support their families. One of the government agencies, the Veterans Administration, communicated with universities concerning the need for additional career counselors which created an influx of psychology students in university programs. This led to the creation of a new psychology specialty, counseling psychology.
As mentioned before, counseling psychology was developed using many of the techniques and theories of other psychologists. The concept of using "talk therapy" to process experiences and issues began with Sigmund Freud. From there, other notable psychologists such as Lightner Witmer, Carl Jung, and Alfred Adler to name a few, added their theories of human development and causes of mental disorders that also influenced the conception of counseling psychology. Carl Rogers stressed the importance of the therapist-client relationship. Freud stressed the importance of how unconscious conflicts and defense mechanisms produced mental illness. All of these concepts are still used by counseling psychologists today.
A big part of counseling psychology is non-verbal communication and building rapport with the client. Theorists and researchers have found that non-verbal body language such as eye-contact, leaning toward the client, keeping a comfortable distance, mirroring body language, and attending to other non-verbal cues increases trust and conveys empathy. Researchers have also found that clients who feel that their counselor is empathetic and caring are more likely to benefit from treatment.
Lightner Witmer started the world's first psychological clinic in 1896, a moment that many also consider the beginning of counseling psychology. One of his earliest cases involved a 14 year old boy Witmer referred to as Charles. Though Charles was relatively smart with no signs of retardation, he could not read. Witmer found Charles' case to be quite complex, a condition now known as dyslexia. His was the first documented case of its kind. Witmer primarily worked with children but he also had older clients. His work was very important to the advancement to career and school counseling and was a precursor to counseling psychology.
Frank Parsons and Jesse Davis
Witmer, Parsons, and Davis were all psychologists that focused on vocational guidance. Parsons believed that school guidance was an effective prevention for difficulties later in life. Davis set up a guidance program in schools that taught life skills to students. Their theory was that education and the teaching of life skills would prevent and cure the ills of society. Prevention is still a large factor of counseling psychology today.
Clifford Beers was committed to mental institutions for depression and paranoia on several different occasions during his life. While Beers was institutionalized, the staff severely mistreated him and the other patients. This led him to write a book about his experiences in mental institutions that Beers called A Mind That Found Itself. His book was influential to counseling psychology because he exposed the deplorable conditions in mental health hospitals and advocated for reform. Consequently, Beers was able to get support from the mental health profession that lead to more humane treatment of the mentally ill. Beers also founded the National Committee for Mental Hygiene. Today, this committee is called Mental Health America and is still committed to helping all individuals improve their mental health.
Frank Robinson was noteworthy for starting the first program of process research in counseling psychology in 1938. Process research is defined as research done with an improved process in mind. Robinson's process research consisted of recording student sessions with clients so the students could hear and evaluate themselves. Robinson recorded more than 100 sessions in 10 years. His first doctoral student, Elias Hull Porter, Jr., developed categories of counselor behaviors by analyzing the recordings. Through this process of research and analysis, he was able to define and categorize roles and patterns of various counseling activities such as listening to the client, diagnosing, and teaching. They found that the phrases and behaviors of the student counselors influenced the consequent responses of their clients. If the students conveyed sufficient empathy, clients were more likely to reveal sensitive material. Training programs today still rely on the use of recordings to help graduate students learn proper listening skills, verbal and nonverbal communication, and other therapeutic techniques.
Williamson devised one of the first theories of counseling psychology, a trait-theory of personality, i.e. each individual had traits or interests, and aptitudes that combined to form their overall personality. He believed that counselors needed to adapt treatment to match the individuals' particular characteristics in order to help them overcome destructive thinking and behavioral patterns.
Carl Rogers used similar methods to that of Frank Robinson to study affects of counseling techniques. His technique, also referred to as humanistic psychology, was very different from other theories of his time period because Rogers was "client-centered." Other psychoanalysts such as Freud believed that psychologists were experts of their client's mental processes and issues whereas Rogers believed that clients were the experts of their own lives. Instead of focusing on psychopathology, he focused on the client's strengths. Rogers believed that if the therapist used unconditional positive regard, i.e. accepted the client's feelings without reservation or judgment, the client would move from negative to positive emotions and healthy coping styles. Today, research has supported Carl Roger's claims that the relationship between the client and therapist has more influence on the client than any therapeutic technique.
Another important factor concerning counseling psychologists dealt with the type and amount of schooling/training, and the type of license acquired. For example, although Carl Rogers relied on the scientific method and observable behaviors in his research, he was not allowed to use the title of "psychotherapist" because this title was reserved for individuals with specific training. Rogers did not practice psychoanalysis like Sigmund Freud or similar psychologists, nor did he have the same training. Psychotherapists wanted to be set apart from people they considered unqualified to practice therapy. Therefore, Carl Rogers adopted the term "counseling" psychologist from the work of Frank Parsons.
Psychometrics, or psychological testing, was also an important factor in the history of counseling psychology. Intelligence tests were used to screen individuals for various learning disabilities and aptitudes. They were designed in the beginning to be used to assess individuals joining the military but soon were adopted in the educational system.
Other forms of psychological testing were used to prescreen in the military for individuals most susceptible to emotional breakdown. In 1946, the National Mental Health Act was passed. This act authorized additional funds for research, training, prevention and treatment of mental disorders.
Today, there are psychometric tests for every mental disorder. Counseling psychologists use these tests to aid with diagnosis of mental disorders. Some tests are called personality inventories and rate an individual according to particular issues such as depression and anxiety. Others screen individuals for post-traumatic stress disorder (PDS), attention deficit disorder (Conner's Scales), and dissociation (DES) to name a few. It should also be noted that some forms of psychometric testing can only be administered by a psychologist with a PhD. There are, however, several assessments that counseling psychologists can give without a PhD.
Additional Key Figures & Theories
This is not meant to be an exhaustive summary of all the important events and theories that influenced the development of counseling psychology. Counseling psychology has continued to grow and evolve since its inception. Some additional notable figures and theories of counseling psychology are:
- Sigmund Freud: notable for his theories of psychosexual development, id-ego super-ego, defense mechanisms, and the role of the unconscious.
- Carl Jung: most notable for dream analysis.
- Alfred Adler: stressed the importance of birth order on personality development.
- Eric Erickson: believed unconscious conflicts were due to psychosocial stages rather than the psychosexual stages of Freud.
- Melanie Klein: was the first psychologist to use psychoanalysis with children. Klein also interpreted the meaning of play for children.
- Ronald Fairbairn: believed that the libido was "object seeking" rather than "pleasure seeking" and the libido sought relationships with other people. He also stated that the ways a child attached to caregivers influenced how they would form relationships later in life.
- Margaret Mahler: studied child development and the development of "self." She theorized that the development of the "self" occurred in several stages during the first few years of life and if a child did not successfully individuate themselves from their caregiver, they would have disturbed identities as adults.
- B. F. Skinner: noted for his theories of operational conditioning with pigeons and positive versus negative reinforcement.
- Albert Ellis: developed rational emotive behavioral therapy.
- Aaron Beck: cognitive therapist that proposed that depression and anxiety resulted from faulty thinking strategies.
- Joseph Wolfe: developed systematic desensitization for the treatment of phobias.
- John Watson: most known for his "Little Albert" experiment and his theories of classical conditioning in the development of phobias.
- Ivan Pavlov: noted for his theories of classical conditioning with dogs. He taught dogs to salivate to a bell by pairing a bell with feeding the dogs food.
- William Glasser: founder of choice therapy which focuses on personal choices and responsibilities as main elements of change.
- Victor Frankl: was a survivor of the holocaust and wrote the book "Man's Search for Meaning." He believed that depression resulted from a lack of meaning in one's life.
- Rollo May: was the only existential psychologist that used stages to illustrate child development. He used themes such as existence, courage, love, will, creativity, freedom, destiny, and innocence in his theory.
- Irvin Yalom: an existential psychologist who believes psychopathology results from conflict with issues of freedom, existential isolation, meaningless and death.
- Abraham Maslow: noted for his "hierarchy of needs" and theory that all people had a need for self-actualization but could not meet that need until basic and other needs were met.
- Fritz Perls: founded Gestalt psychology. He used techniques with clients to keep them in the "here-and-now" and being fully aware of their physical and emotional feelings at any given moment. He also stressed being genuine and honest with self and others.