Stanley Strong

Stanley R. Strong is an influential counseling psychologist who characterized his life and career as devoted to the construction and evaluation of hypothetical models of underlying realities. Born in 1939 in Butte, Montana, Strong completed his bachelor’s degree at the University of Montana and his Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota in 1966. Influenced by a number of professors and visiting scholars at Minnesota (e.g., Lloyd Lofquist, Kurt Lewin, Karl Weick, Elliot Aronson, Leon Festinger, and Marvin Dunnette), he came to view counseling as a social organization. From the onset, Strong alternated between disenchantment and attraction to the specialty of counseling psychology. This resulted in a short period of employment as an industrial psychologist followed by an appointment as a professor of counseling psychology, a later appointment in student affairs administration, and it culminated in teaching assignments in both counseling and social psychology.

Strong spent significant periods of his career working in the Office of Student Life Studies at Minnesota, initially with Ralph Berdie; as a faculty member in the Psychology Department at Minnesota; at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with Dave Dixon and Chuck Claiborn; and for 20 years at Virginia Commonwealth University (until his retirement in 2000) with Donald Kiesler and Everett Worthington. These positions provided opportunities for productive collaborations with colleagues and students.

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Strong’s application of research findings and theoretical models from social psychology to the discipline of counseling psychology exerted a profound influence on the subsequent development of the profession. During the early 1960s, the training of counseling psychologists heavily emphasized interventions based on trait and factor psychology and skill development in empathic understanding, unconditional positive regard, and congruence. As a consequence, classroom instruction frequently was devoted to the discussion of whether a counselor should influence a client. These discussions often were lengthy, heated, and lacked resolution. Strong’s 1968 article on counseling as an interpersonal influence process, and his subsequent research on interpersonal influence, provided closure for this debate. By the end of the decade, Strong’s application of social psychology theory and research to the counseling process had begun the evolution of counseling psychology into the applied psychological science that exists today.

Strong’s earliest and most productive collaboration was with Lyle Schmidt, while both were at Minnesota. Building on Strong’s seminal paper “Counseling: An Interpersonal Influence Process,” they conducted a series of analogue studies that energized research in counseling psychology, both conceptually and methodologically. These early studies demonstrated the importance of the client’s perceptions of the counselor’s expertness, interpersonal attractiveness, and trustworthiness in the influence process. Today, nearly 40 years later, these dimensions are accepted as foundational to the therapeutic relationship; important contributions to the common factors documented to underlie the effectiveness of different approaches to psychotherapy.

Strong and Schmidt also demonstrated that these variables could be studied in a laboratory counseling analogue setting. These studies, although open to retrospective criticism, served to stimulate derivative research that refined and enhanced psychologists’ understanding of the counseling process.

Strong’s influence has been magnified many times over because of his generative influence on colleagues and students. Influenced and trained by Strong, some of the most influential and productive scholars of the past three decades have continued to advance research on social influence, social power, and evolving explanatory models, including Dave Dixon, Fred Lopez, Cathy Wambach, Jim Lichtenberg, Don Dell, Marty Heesacker, Chuck Claiborn, Puncky Heppner, and Tony Tinsley.

Strong’s social influence model has been cited as one of the primary theories that have shaped the development of counseling psychology. Furthermore, the empirical research stimulated by his model is documented as one of the most influential systematic investigations of the counseling process.

Strong periodically shifted his research focus, cycling between the context of discovery and the context of verification, as he attempted to understand the change process in counseling. His attempts to understand the anomalies found in research results led him to incorporate principles and constructs from other theories. Many of these shifts paralleled changes taking place in social psychology. From his early applications of Heider’s dissonance theory to counseling, he extended his research to the application of attribution theory to influence in counseling. His efforts to integrate communication systems, impression management, social influence, and attribution research and theory were summarized in Change Through Interaction (1982), a book he coauthored with Chuck Claiborn. His later efforts incorporated concepts from paradoxical interventions, Leary’s interpersonal classification scheme, and social constructivism. A recipient of the Leona Tyler Award from division 17 of the American Psychological Association, his award address explicated his social constructivist, volitional position.

While a Fulbright fellow in England, Strong made a commitment to the Christian faith. At various periods of his life, he wrote extensively on counseling from a Christian-value perspective.

Strong’s energy was also reflected in avocational interests. He restored a total of nine houses, including an antebellum home in historic Richmond, Virginia. He studied architectural history and was involved in design and computer-assisted drawing.

Stan Strong believed strongly in the free will of men, that people have the ability to change. This belief led to a career committed to the scholarly examination of how people make changes and how counselors can assist this process. His contribution to counseling psychology over more than a 30-year period leaves a lasting legacy. To the question—Should a counselor influence a client?—Strong’s legacy provides this answer: A counselor can’t help it, and in fact, should harness the power of that influence and maximize it for the client’s benefit.


  1. Heesacker, M. (2000). Counseling psychology: Theories. In A. E. Kazdin (Sr. Ed.), Encyclopedia of psychology (Vol. 2, pp. 320-324). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association/Oxford University Press.
  2. Kivlighan, D. M. (2000). Counseling process and outcome. In A. E. Kazdin (Sr. Ed.), Encyclopedia of psychology (Vol. 2, pp. 312-316). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association/Oxford University Press.
  3. Strong, S. R. (1968). Counseling: An interpersonal influence process. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 15, 215-224.
  4. Strong, S. R. (1970). Causal attribution in counseling and psychotherapy. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 17, 388-399.
  5. Strong, S. R. (1971). Experimental laboratory research in counseling. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 18, 106-110.
  6. Strong, S. R. (1991). Theory-driven science and naive empiricism in counseling psychology. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 38, 204-210.
  7. Strong, S. R., & Claiborn, C. D. (1982). Change through interaction. New York: Wiley.
  8. Strong, S., Yoder, B., & Corcoran, J. (1995). Counseling: A social process for constructing personal powers. The Counseling Psychologist, 23, 374-384.
  9. Wampold, B. E., & White, T. B. (1985). Research themes in counseling psychology: A cluster analysis of citations. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 32, 123-126.

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