The word counseling or counselling comes from the Middle English counseil, from Old French conseil, from Latin cōnsilium; akin to cōnsulere, to take counsel, consult.

There are probably as many definitions of counseling as there are practitioners to describe it. The term was originally used by Frank Parsons in 1908. It was adopted by Carl Rogers in response to widespread prejudice in the USA against lay therapists and also because he was not then permitted by the psychiatry profession to call himself a psychotherapist. The difference between definitions of counseling and psychotherapy is less significant that the practitioners perceptions of their Raison d'Être.


Difference between coaching, counseling and psychotherapy

Coaching tends to be future orientated, goal focused and asks the client to be accountable to themselves. Counseling tends to be oriented in equal measure to the past, present and future as well as problem and solution focused but less on psychopathology than psychotherapy. Psychotherapy tends to deal more with seriously disturbed individuals such as those with depression, anxiety or personality disorder. This distinction is not hard and fast however, as in both common and professional usage counseling and psychotherapy are interchangeable, whilst coaching is perceived as different and limited to sports coaching, yet includes therapeutic coaching in its realm. This leads to confusion for both customers and practitioners in a complex service industry that now includes marriage mentoring, for example. The differences are usually to do with the type of training, accreditation and special interests of each type of coach, counselor or psychotherapist.

Coaching arose from management consultancy and leadership training, and has grown into traditional counseling and psychotherapy fields such as conflict coaching and systemic coaching. Coaching and counseling tend to arise from a humanistic and client-centered approach. Counselors attend to both normal social, cultural and developmental issues as well as the problems associated with physical, emotional, and mental disorders. These are nonpathologizing views of the person in context. A vital ingredient is their view that coaching and counseling are a meeting between practitioner and client, which invites the creative possibilities of dialogue in contrast to treatment of a disorder and in mentoring, a partnership of colleagues of greater and lesser experience. Many personal coaches and counselors use movement, psychodynamic and cognitive-behavioral approaches in their work, usually integrating these aspects into the process when appropriate and beneficial to their client.

Coaching, psychotherapy and counseling all encourage self help as a resource for change, but to different degrees. For example, will a person believed to be suffering a mental disorder think about self-help in a disordered way - using aluminum foil wrapping of the skull to prevent their thoughts being broadcast to a television set, for example. This could be considered disordered self-help. By contrast, in an approach that does not pathologize the person, the practitioner is unlikely to pathologize the client's self help strategy and some may even research the science of experience to find information about the effectiveness of a skullcap.


For context to the history of counseling see Timeline of psychology and Timeline of psychotherapy. Each of the articles in See Also below contain histories which relate to that of counseling. For a brief history see the external sites below.

What a counselor usually does

  • Listen effectively to what you are saying
  • Interrupt you when it is useful and appropriate
  • Facilitate your untangling of thoughts, feelings and worries about a situation
  • Offer you their insights into how you act, think and feel
  • Teach, show and help you express your emotions in your own way
  • Teach, show and help you work out your own solutions to problems
  • Teach, show and help you accept what cannot be changed
  • Teach, show, help and support you and your relationship while you do all this
  • Use a variety of different techniques to help you explore what is important to you.

See also

  • American Counseling Association
  • School Counseling


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