What is counseling?
If psychology had two arms, one would be research and the other counseling. In its simplest form, research generates the knowledge and counseling applies it. But defining counseling is not easy. It is primarily talk therapy but what you talk about varies widely. So the who, what and where of counseling is quite broad.
Who goes to counseling?
Although counseling is provided for couples, families and groups, most commonly it is individuals who go to counseling. Sessions are typically on the hour and last for 45-50 minutes. During the break, the therapist (another name for counselor) writes notes on your session, and prepares for the next individual. The sessions are confidential but not secret: you might see your friend or neighbor in the waiting room or entering the building (non-secret) but the content of your discussion with the therapist is private. Confidentiality is guaranteed, except for issues of public safety, such as child abuse or harm to others.
More women go to counseling than men. But the age of clients range from children, teens, college students, adults and seniors. Most people go to counseling voluntarily but some are mandated by the court.
What kind of problems are addressed?
There is no set topic for counseling. You can choose any part of your life for discussion. Frequent topics include drug addiction, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, phobias, coping, grief, post-traumatic shock, and anything having to do with people. People go to pre-marital counseling to prepare for marriage, to marital counseling to succeed in marriage, and to post-marital counseling to recover from marriage.
Where is counseling done?
Psychological counseling occurs in hospitals, clinics, schools and private practice. In hospitals, group and individual counseling are offered to psychiatric patients in conjunction with drug therapy. Hospitals and clinics also often provide rehabilitation services for drug and alcohol addiction. Counseling in school, college and university settings includes psychological and educational issues. In private practice, most psychologists rent space in commercial office buildings. Often counselors will form a small group that shares a waiting room and office equipment.
Psychoanalysis. Sigmund Freud provided the first major approach to counseling. His emphasis on free association and the analysis of psychological defenses formed the basis of modern psychiatry. Following his lead, Alder, Jung and neoFreudians theorists modified and expanded psychodynamic therapy.
Behaviorism. In contrast to Freud’s internal psychic processes, the next approach to understanding human behavior was an external explanation. Pavlov’s classical conditioning is used to eliminate phobias using systematic desensitization. Skinner’s operant conditioning, another behavioral approach, uses rewards and token economies to modify behaviors.
Humanism. Carl Rogers revolutionized therapy by making it accessible to normal people. Instead of negative psychic forces or external influences, Rogers emphasized the humanness of the individual. According to his view, we are inherently good, not inherently evil. We strive to grow, to understand, and to acquire self-esteem. The goal of counseling should be to achieve the client’s goals. It should be client-centered.
Gestalt & Existentialism. These approaches emphasized personal responsibility, immediacy of experience (Perls) and the striving for meaning (Frankl). In contrast to psychodynamic explanations for past traumas, both Gestalt and existential theory focused on the here-and-now.
Cognitive. Founded by Aaron Beck and extended by Albert Ellis, cognitive therapy insists that our main problem is how we think about a situation. Automatic thoughts lead to emotional distress. To counter these internal reactions, we need to reality test our assumptions and think logically about our lives.
Major Theorists (a very short list)
10-Day Guided Tour Of Personality