Counselling Psychology: Historical Underpinnings
Kathleen B. Stephany
Simon Fraser University
This paper examines counselling psychology from a historical perspective. The terms counselling and counselling psychology are defined first. The bulk of the paper discusses historical background which includes the theoretical, social and cultural context that have influenced the development and changes within the profession over time. Lastly, a critical analysis will be conducted, emphasizing both the strengths and weaknesses of this branch of psychology as it exists today.
Counselling & Counselling Psychology: What is it?
Counselling denotes a professional relationship between a trained counsellor and a client. The counselling process is designed to help clients understand and clarify their views of their life space in order to learn to reach their self-determined goals through meaningful, well informed choices (Burks & Stefflre, 1979). Counselling psychologists are expected to apply one or more psychological theories and a recognized set of communication skills, based on empirical research of the client and the counselling process, to client's concerns, problems or aspirations, and they are interested in using the counselling method as a tool to influence positive change in persons who are dissatisfied with their present behaviour (Clarkson, 1998; Feltham & Dryden, 1993; Lewis, 1970).
One clear difference between counsellors and counselling psychologists is that the later group makes a conscious use of the knowledge they have acquired from the field of academic psychology alongside practising counselling skills, whereas the former group do not necessarily have as extensive an educational background (Clarkson, 1998). For example, counselling psychologists have a basic degree in psychology and then a Masters degree in counselling psychology (British Psychological Association, 1988). However, many individuals who practice under the heading of "counsellor" may not even have a background in academic psychology at all and they also do not necessarily have a Masters degree (Clarkson, 1998).
Historical Underpinnings Propelling Forces: Scientific Theory & Society
According to Mannheim's (1985) views on the sociology of knowledge, the development of ideas within a scientific profession do not necessarily originate from the individual who is named as the founder of an idea, but rather they develop out of the collective purposes of the scientific group with whom the individual belongs. One of the major influences of any science is theoretical orientation. Theory assists a scientist in organizing a series of events into "a coherent pattern and to systematically extend his knowledge about the relationships among these events by testing predictions generated by theory" (Lewis, 1970, p.7). The focus and research of any given scientific body is strongly directed by theory of orientation, and theory change is in turn influenced by research results. What will become evident, is how counselling psychologists, in formulating their own theories, have borrowed ideas from others within the field of psychology. However, influence over a scientific body is not limited to the social world and theory of the scientific group itself or other scientists, but also by the spirit of the times. Therefore, in order to appreciate what counselling psychology is about today, one must examine the theoretical, historical, social and cultural forces that have influenced and changed the discipline over time. However before proceeding, it is imperative to stress that the influences on the profession of counselling psychology are in no way limited to those presented in this paper, but include other influences that are not discussed.
Prelude to Birth of a Profession
Counselling is a profession that started at the beginning of the twentieth century but it's roots go deeper than the time of its inception. During the eighteenth and nineteenth century the rise of industrialism, urbanization, and capitalism in Western Europe and America created many new social demands which in turn set the stage for counselling psychology. Massive numbers of people who once lived in small rural villages moved into cities. Persons who normally looked to the community for support and guidance were now living isolated lives in an impersonal macrocosm. Capitalism grew to dominate economics and politics, and the values of science began to replace the values of religion (McLeod, 1998). Scientific and technological advances decreased the threat of disease and environmental induced tragedies, and allowed the majority of middle class people more free time to concentrate on themselves as persons and on more intimate and less threatening aspects of everyday living (Lewis, 1970). Because capitalism emphasized private ownership of wealth and competition, personal autonomy and independence became crucial. High demands were placed on the individual to adopt ethics of hard work and to internalize norms (McLeod, 1998). It is not surprising that all of the aforementioned conditions set a stage for the search for new psychological knowledge as a means to address personnel confusion and dilemmas of the time. Counselling psychology became one of the means to address some of these concerns.
The Profession is Born
The birth of counselling psychology occurred at the beginning of the twentieth century within the educational system in the United States (USA), and also quickly infiltrated the Canadian educational system (McLeod, 1998). Historical accounts cite an American, Frank Parsons, as the founder of the educational and guidance movement in the United States and claim him as the forefather of the profession, with 1906 or 1909, as the official birth date (Hansen, Rossberg & Cramer, 1994; Stefflre & Grant, 1972). At the turn of the century there was rising societal concern in America that the educational system was not properly preparing youth for employment. Parsons set out to address those concerns by developing a system of aptitude and capacity tests to be used in conjunction with counselling, to gather data about the individual and about occupations, in order to appropriately match the two (Hansen, Rossberg & Cramer, 1994). However, Parsons' system did not occur as the result of original thought, but rather as a spin-off from the work of others at the time who were deeply involved in the trait-factor theory movement.
Trait-factor theory, which is also referred to as individuality theory of human nature, is based upon the belief that aptitudes or potential performance ability can be determined by tests prior to employment or education (Stefflre & Grant, 1972). Trait-factor theory developed as a result of the work of several psychologists at the time. For example, at the end of the nineteenth century, an Englishman, Galton, inspired by the work of his cousin, Darwin, became one of the first behavioural scientists to empirically and systematically study measurable differences in individual capacities and aptitudes (Benjafield, 1996; Stefflre & Grant, 1972). Galton, was keenly aware that people at that time were looking for ways to initiate self-improvement and therefore he linked his work to practical rather than just academic concerns (Danziger,1990). Galton's study results made assertions about hereditary genius and established a link between a person's ability and the family to which he or she belonged (Benjafield, 1996). Nature and inherited abilities became fashionable and the notion of individual differences became popular because they quantified the human experience, just as physics quantified the natural elements. Ultimately, Galton's work set the stage for many others. For example, Munsterberg, who moved from Germany to the United States, emphasized the implications for individual differences in education, industry and government. One historical account attests that Munsterberg's work was readily accepted into American society, because his ideas seemed relevant to social change and because he openly marketed his study results in booths exposed to the public (Stagner, 1988). It was Munsterberg's work that directly influenced the work of Frank Parsons (Stefflre & Grant, 1972).
Trait Factor Theory & Beyond
Brewer and Davis were also American pioneers in the field of counselling psychology at the beginning of the twentieth century and their ideas followed those of Parsons. Brewer wanted to change the system of education from one that was primarily concerned with the passive transmission of knowledge, to one that would prepare youth for the future by teaching them useful life skills. Davis further developed the concept of educational guidance beyond Parson's concern for appropriate vocational choices and Davis' life skills training, to include counselling youth on issues of moral guidance and guidance for the total life of the individual (Hansen, Rossberg & Cramer, 1994).
The ideas of Parsons, Brewer and Davis were readily infiltrated into the American educational system, but Parsons' trait-factor approach was by far the most widely accepted (Lewis, 1970). For example, psychological tests became the most frequently used tool of the school counsellor throughout the 1920s and 1930s and expanded beyond being used for vocational choices to include determination of scholastic ability. Even though some school counsellors became somewhat sceptical of the increasing sophistication of tests, most continued to use them (Lewis, 1970). In fact, during the Great Depression, educational guidance methods became increasingly important when employment opportunities were scarce.
Personal Counselling: Offshoot from Psychoanalysis
During the late 1930s and early 1940s, while psychological testing and guidance counselling continued to infiltrate the educational system, counselling was also beginning to take place in the private sector and resulted somewhat indirectly from the rise of psychoanalysis. An Austrian psychiatrist, Sigmund Freud, is known as the founder of psychoanalysis. Although psychoanalytic theory has changed quite drastically over time, the original theory was based on these very basic premises: that humans are all essentially neurotic, that underneath the rational conduct of a successful person lie unconscious inner conflicts and instinctual drives, and through the method of psychotherapy an individual can become aware of their unconsciously determined conflicts and deal with them (McLeod, 1998).
Freud's ideas implied that the knowledge and methods derived from psychiatry could be used not only for the mentally ill but also for the common person. Psychoanalysis, although rejected by many, infiltrated the European middle class who were struggling to make a transition between traditional patriarchal authority to personal values and autonomy (McLeod, 1998). Although Sigmund Freud himself did not like America, many other psychoanalysts moved to the United States in order to escape the rise of fascism and anti-Semitism in Europe. For example, famous psychotherapists like, Ferenczi, Rank and Erikson moved to areas in the Eastern states and they were readily received (McLeod, 1998). It appears as though American society, with its increased social mobility, nuclear families, and the search for financial and personal success, created a fertile receiving ground for psychotherapy as a method for self improvement (McLeod, 1998).
Under the guidance and counselling heading, Clifford Beers began to specifically use methods derived from psychoanalysis, such as talk therapy, as a direct tool to help people solve their problems. Counselling psychology, which once only concentrated its efforts within the educational system now began to use counselling methods to assist private members in the community. Some of the key reasons for this expansion included: decreased public reliance on religion for guidance, the addition of psychotherapy as a new means to address normal people's problems, as well as the fact that, in less populated parts of America there were not enough psychiatrists and clinical psychologists available to do psychotherapy (Lewis, 1970). However, open criticism occurred from members in the fields of psychiatry and clinical psychology, that the typical counsellor, with little more than a Master's degree in education, was lacking appropriate or adequate training to conduct counselling in the community (Lewis, 1970). The opposition was such that counselling may not have been allowed to continue in the public realm if it were not for the influence of a prominent clinical psychologist, Carl Rogers.
The Role of Carl Rogers
The 1940's and a book by Carl Rogers arrived just in time to assist counsellors faced with the dilemma of professional disapproval. Carl Rogers published the book, Counselling in Psychotherapy. This book apparently implied that there was essentially no difference between psychotherapy and counselling and articulated a simple method of counselling that could be easily used by persons not trained in psychoanalysis (Lewis, 1970). Rogers believed that through psychotherapy and the ideal therapeutic client-therapist relationship, a person could be enabled to discover within him/herself, the capacity for growth, change and personal development (Rogers, 1959). Rogers' theory, which has been cast under the heading of humanistic psychological theory, advocated that every person is born with the potential to develop into a normal personality and that the drive toward self enhancement is innate. Rogers' ideas were in alignment with counselling psychology's underlying assumption that persons are both capable of, and responsible for, their own growth and change, but that they sometimes require professional assistance in order to discover how to best proceed.
Rogers' methods were also quickly grasped by counsellors because he developed his theory of counselling totally from research conducted during the clinical process. For example, Rogers' ideas on the effect of the ideal client therapist relationship and the non directional role of the therapist, occurred as a result of thoughtful inquiry of his clients' perspective as expressed during numerous psychotherapy sessions (Rogers, 1959). After World War II there was a rise in interest in improving methods of practice when the use of tests in order to diagnose and label persons became increasingly distasteful because they were often inaccurate predictors of future behaviour and they depersonalized the human experience (Nietzel, Bernstein & Milch, 1998). Clinicians in both clinical and counselling psychology were in search of more comprehensive and less restricting ways to understand the people they were asked to treat. It logically followed that the desire to improve practice spurned an increased interest in qualitative methods for conducting research. Qualitative research involves a systematic, subjective approach which is used to describe life experiences and give them meaning (Burns & Grove, 1993). Present day counselling psychology utilizes both quantitative and qualitative methods for conducting research and continues to specifically use qualitative research techniques on counselling methods and the therapeutic relationship (Coyle, 1998).
The change toward a greater emphasis on praxis and less emphasis on quantitative science also occurred simultaneously within the discipline of clinical psychology. However, it was this very subject that spurned a greater devision between the two disciplines. Clinical psychology, in its pursuit of being recognized as a "real" science, refused to accept knowledge that was obtained by means other than the traditional experimental method which uses quantitative means. Quantitative research involves a "formal, objective, systematic process to describe and test relationships and examine cause and effect interactions among variables" (Burns & Grove, 1993, p. 777). Consequently, mostly by consensus, clinical psychology's direction turned to the Boulder model, and insisted that clinicians be trained first as scientists and practitioners second, and completion of a four year doctorate became the minimum education required prior to obtaining a license to practice (Nietzel, Bernstein & Milch, 1998). Rogers' views and qualitative methods were rejected by many within the profession of clinical psychology and considered unscientific, yet earnestly grasped by those within the counselling profession. It is ironic that Rogers succeeded in rescuing counselling psychology from professional disapproval only to be rejected by his own.
The 1950s & 1960s: Conflicting Directions
Due to the combined influence of the humanistic and mental hygiene movements, and the rejection of behaviourism's total environmental determinism, the 1950s saw an increased emphasis on developmental tasks within the counselling profession. Some basic assumptions of the humanistic movement were presented earlier and include the belief that humans possess both the potential and capacity for growth and change. The mental hygiene movement was based on the assumption that the cause of social and interpersonal problems were due to the maladjustment of the individual which was caused by maladjustment in childhood (Danziger, 1990). Out of these two movements came the focus on developmental tasks. Developmental tasks are viewed as those tasks that arise at certain points in a person's life cycle whose successful achievement of, leads to personal fulfilment, and whose failure to achieve, leads to unhappiness (Hansen, Rossberg & Cramer, 1994).
Counselling was viewed as means to assist persons through successful achievement of developmental tasks. But why was this type of counselling thought to be useful? Some historical accounts attribute the increased interest in counselling as a means to solve development difficulties, as a direct result of the increased secularization of American and Canadian societies (McLeod, 1998). For example, for large numbers of the population, religious faith was being replaced by therapy which was viewed as a new means to define social values, as a means to fill the void created by consumerism, as well as a way to answer existential questions such as, "why am I here" (McLeod, 1998).
However, although there was strong pressure within the profession to commit to life development counselling, there was also increased pressure to return to the career counselling role. For example, in 1958, the National Defence Education act in the USA placed pressure on the discipline to recruit more youth into the sciences and many counsellors were forced to conduct psychological aptitude testing, often to the exclusion of counselling (Hansen , Rossberg & Cramer, 1994).
Although many within the counselling psychology discipline rejected the notion of total environmental determinism as advocated by behaviourists because it violated the concept of personal freedom and the pursuit of personnel happiness which was so integrally a part of the American belief system, others readily accepted some behavioural tactics. For example, learning theory, which was knowledge derived from behavioural research of the learning process, was readily accepted and applied within the counselling process and generated a new approach named, "behavioural counselling," which focused on changing the behaviour of the client through the process of counselling (Hansen, Rossberg & Cramer, 1994). The 1970s & 1980s and Expanding Roles During the next two decades counselling psychology expanded its role to include a broader array of services, once again partially because of the well accepted view that these services could cause betterment of society and also because, in this post modern era, individuals in the Western world, including Canada, were becoming increasingly aware of the choices open to them and that change was a real possibility. Furthermore, the media often provided widespread positive publicity concerning the benefits of counselling (McLeod,1998). Consequently, counselling began to be readily provided to the following: persons with marriage and family problems, adolescents in trouble, persons with disabilities and those who were occupationally displaced (Hansen, Rossberg & Cramer, 1994). What was apparent was that role of counselling psychology had expanded far beyond its original focus on testing for vocational choices.
It was during this same time period that counselling moved into the field of mental health and health in general. For example, in both the USA and especially in Canada, the late1980s saw reduced financing available for health care services and managed systems of care were seeking new ways of providing counselling services at lower costs (Nietzel, Bernstein & Milich, 1998). Psychiatrists, and clinical psychologists, long associated as possessing the monopoly of control over treatment provided to the mentally ill, were now competing with increased numbers of counsellors who were readily infused into the health system. Counsellors were an attractive alternative largely because their services were considered by the public to be relevant to social change, they were less expensive, and counsellors could provide a wider arrange of services to more people, such as counselling for professionals within the fields of mental health and health, as well as counselling to effect life style related health issues (Nietzel, Bernstein & Milich, 1998).
The 1990s & Private Practice
The 1990s have seen large numbers of counselling psychologists entering private practice, at a rate never seen before (McLeod, 1998). The reason for this growth in private practice, is partly because of all of the reasons previously mentioned, as well as because counselling psychologists are generally considered by the public at large, to be the professional therapist for the normal individual and less likely to be connected with mental illness (Nietzel, Bernstein, & Milich, 1998). The 1990s has also seen further expansion of the theory component of courses offered in the training of counselling psychologists to include cognitive-behavioural therapies, developmental psychology, psychiatric diagnoses, aspects of sociology related to social class, race and gender, as well as further specialization in areas such as marital, couples, group and bereavement counselling (McLeod, 1998).
Critical Analysis: Strengths & Weaknesses of the Profession
There are several strengths of the counselling psychology profession as it exists today. For example, as previously illustrated, when compared to psychiatrists and clinical psychologists, members of the counselling psychology discipline provide professional counselling services at somewhat reduced costs to a wide range of individuals. Furthermore, their methods have successfully assisted numerous individuals in developing more effective and positive ways of dealing with the many diverse problems of everyday life as experienced in a complexed Western world (Hansen, Rossberg & Cramer, 1994).
The discipline as a whole should also be praised for its continued respect for human agency and autonomy, while still continuing to fulfil its commitment to the global goal of improving society at large. For example, approaches presently used have become increasingly eclectic and are focused on utilizing the best approach to meet the needs of each individual client in relation to his or her community (McLeod, 1998).
An additional asset of the profession is its choice of research methodology. Research is done in order to improve praxis. For example, both quantitative and qualitative methods are used in order to obtain a clearer picture of which counselling processes are most effective in assisting the client. Coyle (1998) points out that the emphasis on including qualitative research techniques on counselling techniques increases the amount of understanding of the processes involved, links research to practice, and invariably improves the validity of methods used for intervention. Furthermore, the discipline considers both academic excellence and character qualities of equal importance when assessing potential candidates for admission into graduate school (McLeod, 1998). Although being a caring, integral person seem to be attributes most often considered by members of the public as essential characteristics of a therapist, clinical psychology considers academic excellence as the most important prerequisite for consideration for graduate school, often to the total exclusion of the personal qualities of the candidate (Ley, 1998).
Not everything about the counselling psychology profession is worthy of praise. Counselling as a theory of cure, has long been criticized as only being applicable to middle or high class persons living in Western society, and having little, if no relevance, to large numbers of other members of society, such as those living in impoverished conditions (McLeod, 1998). Furthermore, although both the individual and community have both been targeted for change, the methods employed up until now have often been too heavily focused on the betterment of society with individual needs taking a secondary seat in importance (Hansen, Rossberg & Cramer, 1994).
Counselling psychology has also been criticized for using methods that are not changing fast enough in order to appropriately address the changing cultural context in which the various members of society live. For example, although there has been a slow movement toward development of techniques that are culturally specific, this move has not progressed fast enough to meet with growing demands (Ramierz, 1999).
Clarkson (1998) points out that shorter term interventions are also needed in addition to more effective ways to provide rapid responsiveness to emergency situations, such as accidents and natural or economic disasters. Hansen, Rossberg and Cramer (1994) stress that development and change in theory and practice needs to expand to have praxis more closely tied in with philosophy and values and less tied to traditional science in order for praxis to be more humanly relevant, and advocate that approaches from alternative frameworks be included, such as those of the naturalist-ethnographic and phenomenological groups.
This paper examined the theoretical, social and cultural influences upon the development and changes within the profession of counselling psychology over time. It was evident how the rise of industrialization, urbanization and capitalism in Western Europe and America, combined with a decreased emphasis on religion and an increased emphasis on science, set the stage for counselling psychology. However, a profession that began with an emphasis on quantifying human abilities through tests, gradually moved toward a greater emphasis on praxis and less emphasis on quantitative science.
The profession owes a great deal of its success to Carl Rogers. It is highly likely that without the influence of Rogers, the profession may have been forced to remain within the confines of the educational system. Furthermore, without increased secularization of both American and Canadian societies, high levels of social mobility, and consumerism, counselling may not have grown to where it is today.
Although the counselling psychology profession has many strengths, there is room for improvement. One of the biggest challenges facing the profession in the future, will be for it to expand its role beyond relevance to Western society in order to seek out ways of becoming more relevant to the problems experienced by members of other societies and cultures.
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