Division 17 of the American Psychological Association (APA), known today as the Society of Counseling Psychology, has endured several challenges in formulating and refining a description of what defines it as a specialty. Prior to the creation of Division 17, the core of counseling as a profession had primarily been in vocational guidance. In 1946, Division 17 of the APA, titled the Division of Counseling and Guidance, was created. Although counseling psychology became a separate division at this time, the division still lacked a defining description that separated it as a unique specialty. Since Division 12 (Clinical Psychology) was already well established, the Division of Counseling and Guidance was encouraged to establish standards for training and practice in the same way that clinical psychology had. It wasn’t until 1951 that the field of counseling psychology emerged as a separate specialty. It was during this year that the job title of counseling psychologist came into use.
In 1951, Division 17 sponsored the Northwestern Conference on the Standards for Training Counseling Psychologists. During this conference participants discussed defining descriptions of the roles and functions of counseling psychologists. It was also during this time that the name of Division 17 was changed to the Division of Counseling Psychology. Under this new title the description of counseling psychologists included the following:
The counseling psychologist is to foster the psychological development of the individual. This includes all people on the adjustment continuum from those who function at tolerable levels of adequacy to those suffering from more severe psychological disturbances. The counseling psychologists will spend the bulk of their time with individuals within the normal range of functioning, but their training should qualify them to work to some degree with individuals at any level of psychological adjustment. Counseling stresses the positive and preventative. It focuses upon the stimulation of personal development to maximize personal and social effectiveness and to forestall psychologically crippling disabilities.
Within this new definition, counseling psychologists extended their role beyond the primary confines of vocational guidance and attempted to help people with all types of life adjustments. However, there continued to be conflicts regarding the status and proper focus of this new specialty. Another conference held in Atlanta in 1987 provided increased clarity on the focus and status of counseling psychology. At this conference the “valued characteristics” of counseling psychology were explicated. These characteristics included an emphasis on positive mental health, strengths-based adjustment and coping, empowerment of individuals, advocacy, political involvement, and direct teaching of skills. Promotion of mental health was not only encouraged at the individual level but extended to groups and systems. Counseling psychology was considered to impact development across the entire life span, to address adjustment and satisfaction in vocational as well as personal spheres, and to incorporate prevention and remediation strategies. In addition, viewing people and their behavior within a sociocultural context influenced by variables of culture, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, and sociohistorical perspectives was also considered of paramount importance.
In 1999, the APA published the Archival Description of Counseling Psychology that recognized and affirmed counseling psychology as an applied specialty. The current definition and parameters of the profession are described as follows:
Counseling Psychology is a general practice and health service-provider specialty in professional psychology. It focuses on personal and interpersonal functioning across the life span and on emotional, social, vocational, educational, health-related, developmental, and organizational concerns. Counseling psychology centers on typical or normal development issues as well as atypical or disordered development as it applies to human experience from individual, family, group, systems, and organizational perspectives. Counseling psychologists help people with physical, emotional, and mental disorders improve well-being, alleviate distress and maladjustment, and resolve crises. In addition, practitioners in this professional specialty provide assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of psychopathology. Within the context of life-span development, counseling psychologists focus on healthy aspects and strengths of the client (individual, couple, family, group, system, or organization), environmental/situation influences (including the context of cultural, gender, and lifestyle issues), and the role of career and vocation on individual development and functioning. (p. 589)
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