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1. The act of exchanging opinions and ideas; consultation.
2. Advice or guidance, especially as solicited from a knowledgeable person.

Counseling – something that provides direction or advice as to a decision or course of action

Definition of Professional Counseling

The Practice of Professional Counseling:

The application of mental health, psychological, or human development principles, through cognitive, affective, behavioral or systematic intervention strategies, that address wellness, personal growth, or career development, as well as pathology.

Professional Counseling Specialty:

A Professional Counseling Specialty is narrowly focused, requiring advanced knowledge in the field founded on the premise that all Professional Counselors must first meet the requirements for the general practice of professional counseling.

Adopted by the ACA Governing Council, October 17-19, 1997

Definition of Counseling
(Crisis Fact Sheets) 01.01.07

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.

One 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 unequals — 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, 1993):

• The past more than the present
• Insight more than change
• The detachment of the therapist
• The therapist’s role as an expert

Psychotherapists and clinical psychologists generally use the term psychotherapy to describe their work. Whether clients receive counseling or psychotherapy, however, is 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 psychotherapy process.

Generally, when making a distinction between psychotherapy and counseling, you should consider two criteria:

➢ 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 a short-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.

➢ 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).

Counseling 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.

New Directions Counseling –
Information About Counseling

Definition of Counseling

Counseling is an interpersonal helping relationship that begins with the client exploring the way they think, how they feel and what they do, for the purpose of enhancing their life

The client determines and declares to the counselor what the counter productive behaviors are and then makes decisions about which one(s) will be worked on. The counselor helps the client to set the goals that pave the way for positive change to occur

Assumptions inherent in this definition:

➢ Counseling effectiveness is judged by positive change(s)
➢ The client is the all important person in the dyad. It is for them that the activity exists…everything that goes on is for the benefit of them
➢ The counselor cannot merely do what comes naturally. There must be a rationale and method guiding the counselor’s behaviors, responses, etc.
➢ Counseling is work, pain is involved, and there are costs associated with it (emotional, time, financial, energy, etc.)
➢ Thinking, feeling and behaving are interrelated. Changes in one area effects others
➢ The counselor is a skilled and competent person who seeks to improve their performances via continued education and self-awareness
➢ All clients come with their own perspectives. Each is a unique individual with particular characteristics and ways of dealing with the world

Effective Counselors

➢ Have good will (are optimistic and hopeful)
➢ Are able to be fully present for another
➢ Equalize the counseling relationship
➢ Have a sense of vulnerability
➢ Have self-respect
➢ Are willing to model appropriate thoughts, feelings and behaviors
➢ Turn mistakes into learning experiences
➢ Have a sense of humor
➢ Are empathetic and compassionate
➢ Demonstrate patience
➢ Are non-judgmental
➢ Are active listeners
➢ Care about the clients’ well being

Counseling: professional guidance of the individual by utilizing psychological methods especially in collecting case history data, using various techniques of the personal interview, and testing interests and aptitudes

Gardner’s Definition

Counseling is an interpersonal helping relationship that begins with the client exploring the way they think, how they feel and what they do, for the purpose of enhancing their life that is carried out by a professional using a systematic and scientific psychological method to enable an individual to re-experience his or her attitudes, beliefs and behaviors in a manner in which s/he can make decisions about change. Since change can only be made from security, this process is contingent upon the development of a trust relationship and a sanction to help.

Key words:

Interpersonal – this implies more than one person

Helping – this implies beneficence – more than ‘do no harm’, the expectations is that the client’s quality of life will somehow improve

Relationship – this implies that the people involved have some level of connection

Exploring – this implies that the client is able to go beyond his or her automatic thoughts and thought hierarchy and think about options not before considered

Think – this implies cognition – both logical [linguistic] concepts and emotional [quirks], hunches, visceral ‘gut’ reactions and the ineffable

Feel – this implies the sensory modalities [visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile and taste] as well as their submodalities.

Professional – this implies specific training

Systematic – this implies a specific protocol – sequential activities done in a time ordered fashion – an algorithm

Scientific – this implies an evidence base

Psychological – this implies a knowledge of people an how they function – particularly how they learn

Method – this implies a standardized approach including a protocol, techniques and procedures

Enable – this implies that the purpose is to help the client speak, not to speak for the client

Re-experience – this implies that the client will experience significant events in his or her life in a new way

Attitudes – this implies the major schematic structure of an individual that acts as an ‘attractor’ for life’s experiences

Beliefs – this implies that the individual places emotional value on certain interpretations of experience.

Behaviors – this implies the actions that the person takes

Decisions – this implies the choices the client makes about needs and wants

Change – this implies new attitudes developed from new experiences that lead to new decisions that result in new behaviors

Sanction – this implies that the client gives the counselor the authority to help,

Finally, we must refer again to the comparison on page four. Clients “are not considered “sick” but “stuck”. Since the question of pathology or ‘sickness’ is moot from the cognitive perspective, therapy becomes a nondiscriptive word. Unfortunately it has become a promotivation effort to connect oneself to the medical model for purposes of prestige. Since clients recognize that, it is preferred that cognitive behavior counselors resist the temptation and avoid the term. Counselor is not only the preferred term it is the only acceptable option.