With statistics from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration revealing that an estimated one in five people in the United States of America experienced mental illness in 2009, and that the number of diagnoses is on the increase, the need for mental health services like counseling is obvious.
Luckily, counseling is becoming more widespread each year, and there are more and more trained practitioners. In May 2011, for example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (United States Department of Labor) estimated that there were 100,850 clinical, counseling, and school psychologists across the United States, as well as 114,180 mental health counselors, 76,600 substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, and 110,690 rehabilitation counselors.
Counseling is an umbrella term that incorporates a variety of talking therapies delivered by trained practitioners, with the goal of improving the well-being of an individual person or group. According to the American Psychological Association, populations helped by counseling may be split into three groups: individuals, groups (e.g. families, couples), and organizations (e.g. schools, businesses).
Counseling can take place across the life span, from children with behavioral difficulties to elderly people facing retirement or health changes. People of all ages and backgrounds can use counseling to help them with any disorders (physical, mental, or emotional) or distress they might be experiencing, or seek help with diagnosis and treatment of any psychopathology.
The American Psychological Association states that counselors will not normally focus on only one approach to psychotherapy, but there are five broad categories into which the different approaches might fall:
Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapies focus on the unconscious underpinnings of problematic thoughts and behaviours. This approach was made famous by Freud, but has evolved since then. The counselor will build up a relationship with the client, and together they will analyze their interactions to discover more about the way the client views and reacts to relationships in general.
Behavior therapy focuses on how particular behaviors are learnt, and perhaps how they may be unlearnt. For example, a counselor using this approach may be able to help the client to learn relaxation techniques with which to respond to their feared situation, rather than the avoidance which they have previously learned.
Cognitive therapy focuses on assessing how the client thinks about particular things, in the belief that it is dysfunctional thinking that leads to dysfunctional behaviour. If a person has a social phobia because they think that they will make a fool of themselves in public, the counselor might try to help the client understand why that sort of dysfunctional thinking has arisen.
Humanistic therapy is one in which the counselor tries not to act as an authority on what the client should or should not think, feel, or do. Instead, humanistic therapy is centred on the client’s own rationality and potential. There are many types of humanistic therapy that may focus on a client’s concerns, awareness, feelings of responsibility, and free will.
Integrative or holistic therapy is a term meaning a therapy which incorporates various of the above elements in the counselor’s approach; school and workplace counselors, relationship counselors, and individual counselors may all use aspects of any of these approaches in their work. While there are counselors who work within one particular theory of psychotherapy, many will draw from various aspects of their training to base their approach around the specific needs of the client.
By C. J. Newton, MA, Therapists.com Editor