Counseling Psychology

Counseling PsychologyCounseling psychology facilitates personal and interpersonal functioning across the life span with a focus on emotional, social, vocational, educational, health-related, developmental, and organizational concerns. As one of the general practice health service provider specialties, counseling psychology addresses both normal developmental issues and dysfunctional or disordered developmental issues from individual, family, group, systems, and organizational perspectives. Counseling psychology helps people with physical, emotional, and mental disorders improve their well-being, alleviate distress and maladjustment, resolve crises, and increase their ability to live more highly functioning lives.

The above description is a paraphrase of a 1998 petition by the Division of Counseling Psychology of the American Psychological Association for continued recognition as a specialty in professional psychology. The petition identified distinguishing elements of the field to be an emphasis on healthy behavior, life-span developmental issues, career and vocational as well as personality development, and a commitment to persons in the context of their environments. Core values underlying these elements, which have persisted for decades, include prevention, the importance of developmental transitions, and building on strengths. The field has favored relatively brief interventions attending to persons’ assets regardless of the degree of disturbance.

Evolutionary Sources of Counseling Psychology

Conceptually, philosophically, and professionally, counseling psychology evolved from several sources. Prominent among these are vocational guidance, psycho-metrics, and psychotherapy. Vocational guidance in the early 1900s was a movement to assist young people in their vocational adjustments through education and occupational information. The development of psychometric methods beginning with the Binet Intelligence Scales and furthered by the trade and intelligence tests created for military personnel in World War I. allowed vocational guidance to be more than giving information about jobs. Knowledge relevant to placement was greatly expanded during the Depression of the 1930s through the Minnesota Stabilization Research Institute’s experimentation with psychological tests, information, and training, to assist unemployed workers to find jobs.

About this same time an interest in psychotherapy and the study of personality emerged. A highly influential contribution to this movement was Carl Rogers’s work (Client-Centered Therapy. Boston. 1951). His theoretical and practical innovations offered counselors new understanding of people and their problems of adjustment whether the focus was on occupation, personal values, or interpersonal relations. His work also provided better understanding of counseling processes and procedures, and new methods of training for counselors.

Donald Super’s 1955 article, “Transition: From Vocational Guidance to Counseling Psychology” described the merging of these streams of influence in the evolution of the field. Beginning with vocational guidance as orientation to work, then enhanced by psychometric and psychotherapeutic methods, counseling psychology became a field that assisted persons with all types of life adjustments, treating the person who needed help rather than a problem which needed a solution, and doing it in the context of the individual’s world.

This evolution of a field emphasizing prevention, mental health, personal strengths, brief interventions, person-environment interactions, and life-span development occurred in a hospitable cultural context. These convictions about the field seemed in accord with societal values of the time such as commitment to change (particularly empirically based technological change), social mobility, and the emphasis on self-help or self-development.

Societal Influences in Counseling Psychology

Societal events and crises also affected the evolution of the field. For example, the Army General Classification Test was developed to help assign millions of military personnel in World War I. and the economic depression in the United States during the 1930s led to new understanding of people and work and improved methods of fitting people to environments.

The 1940s and 1950s saw an emphasis on rehabilitation and restoration emerge in counseling psychology. Adapting rather than fitting people to environments became possible through research and development in methods of educational planning and guidance, physical and vocational rehabilitation, and restoration of mental health through psychotherapy or personality counseling. These methods were fostered by World War II, the Korean conflict, and the Soviet-United States competition in space research. Physical and emotional war casualties required psychological as well as medical treatment both during and following these wars. In 1944 the Veterans Administration (VA) was assigned responsibility for assisting veterans to return to civilian life by providing rehabilitation and restoration services. It became the largest employer of psychologists for inpatient treatment in its hospitals and for counseling and guidance of veterans who were using the G.I. Bill, passed by Congress, to plan for and pursue educational and career objectives. The VA contracted with colleges and universities to provide counseling and advisory services, and many student counseling centers of today originated in these VA-sponsored programs. Similarly, the space-science competition between the Eastern and Western powers led Congress to pass the National Defense Education Act which, among many other programs, funded short-term and year-long institutes in universities for training counselors for schools and colleges.

During the 1960s, counseling psychology became interested in personal enhancement. Research on self-awareness, self-actualization, phenomenology, and existentialism was applied to psychotherapeutic methods as in Carl R. Rogers’s client-centered therapy which later opened the way for other non-medical therapies such as behavioral and cognitive-behavioral approaches. World events of the time, especially the cold war, the proliferation of nuclear missiles, and the war in Vietnam induced social consequences of discouragement, disenchantment, and for some people a sense of helplessness about an increasingly threatening environment. Methods for coping with unmanageable external threats shifted more within the person and the existential and client-centered approaches to counseling were especially compatible with this internal orientation.

In the 1970s and 1980s a concern for integration of persons and environments emerged in which theory and practice focused on individuals in a social context, an increased responsibility for environmental and social development, and the conservation of human and natural resources. Social influence theory was applied to counseling in this period and several new methods and approaches to counseling evolved, such as psychological education, peer counseling, crisis intervention, hot lines, community psychology, sensitivity training, and indigenous helping, all oriented to the development of an increased personal and environmental synchrony.

More recently counseling psychology has given greater emphasis to clinical services, and more counseling psychologists are engaged in independent practice and institutional work in health service settings. Changes in economic conditions, health-care policy, and income distribution have led counseling psychologists to be concerned about third-party payment for services, participation in managed care programs, and eligibility for Medicare reimbursement.

APA Division 17

Counseling PsychologyOrganizationally, the history of counseling psychology is very much the history of Division 17 of the American Psychological Association (APA) which was created by the reorganization of APA in the early 1940s. The “Reorganized American Psychological Association” was described by Dael Wolfle (American Psychologist 1946/ 1997, 52, 721-724). The origin of APA divisions was discussed by Benjamin (American Psychologist, 52, 725­-732) and their evolution and current status by Dewsbury (American Psychologist, 52, 733-741).

The bylaws of the reorganized APA, published in the November 1943 Psychological Bulletin, defined divisions as the structure for representing special interests that lie within the Association. Nineteen charter divisions were recommended following a survey of members’ opinions and Division 17, the Division of Personnel and Guidance Psychologists, was to include APA members whose primary interests were in selection, training, and guidance in schools, colleges, and guidance agencies.

A Divisional Organization Committee named temporary chairs and secretaries of the charter divisions in the May 1945 Psychological Bulletin including Edmund G. Williamson as chair and Catherine C. Miles as secretary for Division 17. They served the division until officers were elected and assumed office at the September 1945 annual APA meeting. The first Division 17 officers elected were Edmund G. Williamson (chair), J. G. Darley (secretary), and J. G. Darley, Alvin C. Eurich, Harold Edgerton, and C. L. Shartle (council representatives). By the following year the name of the division had been changed to the Division of Counseling and Guidance Psychologists. Its officers for 1956 to 1947 were Edmund G. Williamson (president), John G. Darley (secretary) and Hugh Bell. G. Frederic Kuder, Carroll Shartle, and Edmund G. Williamson (representatives to APA Council).

At the first business meeting of Division 17 on 5 September 1946, the bylaws drafted by Darley, as division secretary, were approved. As reported by C. Win-field Scott (1980), the purposes of the division stated in these bylaws included (1) extending techniques and methods of psychology to counseling and guidance activities; (2) promoting high standards of practice; (3) encouraging scientific and professional inquiry; (4) assisting in formulating professional standards and ethical codes for counseling and guidance; (5) promulgating scholastic and professional training requirements; and (6) collaborating with psychologists who are primarily attached to medical activities in arriving at definitions and working relationships between related psychological specialties.

The division’s early structure paralleled that of APA, with standing committees for Education and Training, Scientific Affairs, Professional Affairs, and Membership. A concerted effort in the 1970s by the women members established a very active Standing Committee on Women. Except for the latter, these were three-person committees with one new member appointed each year by the president-elect to serve a three-year term, so few people could be involved in the governance of the division at any one time. Division membership increased steadily to about 2,000 in the 1970s while the number of accredited counseling psychology programs remained rather stable at about 20.

By the 1980s the number of accredited counseling psychology programs was increasing (there were 46 in 1986) and a growing concern was expressed by Division members as to how more persons could become involved in division governance. Several special-interest groups were formed in 1985 but the need for a broader and more inclusive governance became obvious. Some division members affiliated with other divisions of APA and many APA members who were counseling psychologists did not join Division 17. If the division were to remain viable it needed to become more compatible with the interests of counseling psychologists of the 1990s.

Bruce Fretz in his 1992 presidential year initiated a major restructuring to address the need for diversification of emphasis and inclusion of more members in division governance. The Executive Board designed an organizational structure which was thoroughly discussed and detailed in the presidencies of Janice Birk, Jo-Ida Hansen, and Kathleen Davis. The necessary by ­law revisions were approved at the 1995 annual business meeting. The modified structure established four elected vice presidents (Diversity and Public Interest. Education and Training, Professional Practice, and Scientific Affairs), nine appointed standing committees, and provided for the establishment of interest sections such as the Section on Women, and for the appointment of special task groups when needed (24 of the latter existed during 1995). The bylaws also established a membership category of professional affiliation for those who were not members of APA. In 1995 the number of accredited programs had increased to 69. Division membership reached a new high of more than 3.000, and more than 225 members were involved in governance activities. This dramatic increase inspired optimism that the restructuring would meet the needs of division members into the next century.

Training Conferences in Counseling Psychology

Of historic importance to Division 17 were four training conferences held between 1949 and 1987. The first, though not a Division 17 undertaking, was a Conference on Training of Psychological Counselors held at Ann Arbor. Michigan, in July 1949 and January 1950. These were defined as “subdoctoral” professionals. The conference report included a description of “Counselor-Psychologists” who were persons trained at the doctoral level and whom the conferees regarded as essentially the same kind of psychologists as clinical psychologists.

The Northwestern Conference held at Northwestern University in 1951 resulted in a new name for Division 17, Counseling Psychology, which was formally approved by the members in 1951. The conference also led to the publication of “Recommended Standards for Training Counseling Psychologists at the Doctorate Level” in the American Psychologist in 1952 and a companion report, “The Practicum Training of Counseling Psychologists,” published at the same time. In 1956 an important follow-up paper. “Counseling Psychology as a Specialty,” was published in the American Psychologist, which included a report that the Veterans Administration had established two new positions with the title Counseling Psychologist, and that the American Board of Examiners in Professional Psychology had renamed its diploma in “Counseling and Guidance” to “Counseling Psychology.”

The Greyston Conference was held in 1964 after three years of discussion and planning by the Division. Papers were presented reviewing the field’s events since 1951, including the substantive bases for the specialty. work sites and activities, current assessment and innovation methods, and the nature of existing training programs. These papers and other historic documents were published in the conference report, The Professional Preparation of Counseling Psychologists (1964) along with a series of recommendations specifying essential areas of training for counseling psychologists and the proportions of training time for each area.

The Georgia Conference in 1987 was on “Planning the Future of Counseling Psychology.” Each person attending participated in one of the following areas of discussion: Professional Practice, Public Image, Training and Accreditation, Research, and Organization and Political Issues. The report of the conference and the recommendations by the discussants was published in the July 1988 issue of The Counseling Psychologist.

Journals and Newsletters in Counseling Psychology

Also of importance to the history of the field and an archive of division history are its publications. The first division newsletter appeared in 1948, later to be named Counseling News and Views, and continued until 1968. In 1969 it was replaced by The Counseling Psychologist, a quarterly publication, founded and edited by John Whiteley, for the purpose of critical analysis and commentary on professional problems and as a forum for professional concerns. A newsletter was reestablished by the division in 1983. Counseling psychology’s primary journal. the Journal of Counseling Psychology was founded in 1954 by Milton Hahn, Harold Seashore, Donald Super, and C. Gilbert Wrenn, with the modest financial support of 28 stockholders (Wrenn, 1966). Its publication was assumed by APA in 1967 and its 45 volumes up to the late 1990s are a detailed history of counseling psychology’s science and practice.

The field of counseling psychology today is the result of many professional movements, societal influences, and organizational developments. The accounts of its evolution can be found in its journals and newsletters and in its deposited materials at the Archives of the History of American Psychology.


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