Counseling psychology is a field contained within applied psychology that utilizes not only psychology principles but incorporates the behavioral sciences, human resources techniques, clinical, and school psychology as well. Counseling is primarily considered a service provided by a professional with special qualifications that uses psychological and behavioral science to improve the lives of clients by focusing on the decisions they make and planning improved roles in their social environments.

Counseling IDB-1

The emphasis is on improving the lives of the clients and to catalyze development for the individual by seizing on opportunity for improvement through better decision making. In addition to improving decision making skills, counseling deals with overcoming difficulties with environmental factors through improved resource utilization or modification. Counseling attempts to be relevant for all individuals as opposed to clinical psychology which has a more specific focus.


The term counseling psychology was coined in the early 1950’s and evolved from the evolution of several different disciplines. One of which, vocational guidance, was created in the early 20th century by Frank Parsons. Vocational Guidance had similar aims and was described as a process of vocational orientation, individual analysis, and counseling with a primary focus upon the collection and dissemination of occupational information. By the roaring 20’s James Cattell introduced psychometric devices which provided measures of professional aptitude and interest. By the late 1930’s Donald Paterson had introduced a large-scale program for vocational guidance that demonstrated the value of utilizing psychological knowledge to provide vocational guidance.

In the 1940’s Carl Rogers led a movement that incorporated psychodynamic interpretation of behavior, psychopathology, and featured an increasing utilization of personality and learning theories. Counselors also began to incorporate increasing knowledge from psychologists and psychotherapists. By the 1960’s through the work of Donald Super and Milton Hahn respectively, developmental and social psychology techniques were incorporated as well. Eventually the scope of counseling incorporated understanding of the major life events one could expect throughout their lifespan.

Counseling IDB-2

Today, the basis of counseling psychology is found in several different psychological modalities which include, psychometric theory, basic processes of learning, perception, motivation, and emotion, personality theory and dynamics, developmental psychology, and social psychology. In addition, counseling incorporates relevant aspects of economics, sociology, and anthropology when appropriate.

Conditions & Treatment

Although face-to-face counseling with individuals is the heart of counseling psychology, the counseling psychologist also plays an active role in exploring and coordinating community resources such as placement, habilitative treatments, social services, and educational opportunities. Increasingly the counseling psychologist is in demand as a consultant to local and state agencies and institutions concerned with human welfare and effectiveness. Counselors in the 21st century are especially adept at helping clients understand what behaviors are not working and help to incorporate new more effective behaviors in their place.