What is Counseling?

Counseling is a practice that uses a variety of methods to help people improve their well-being, reduce stress, alleviate painful emotional situations, resolve problems, and increase their quality of life. The focus during a counseling session is typically on individual problem-solving or learning techniques to cope with the patient’s problem areas. Counselors pay specific attention to emotional, social, developmental and health-related issues when meeting with a patient. Counseling doesn’t have to just occur with a counselor and a single patient; a counseling session can be done for married couples, a family, or in a group setting.

Origins in History

Counseling, we must suppose, has existed for millennia as an activity that some people provide to others. Throughout human history, people have worked through their troubles with the support of counselors who were more typically known as wise elders or clergy. But the modern science of psychology has its origins in Germany and United States. There are two major schools of thought within the field, Psychoanalysis and Social Psychology.


A wide variety of approaches to counseling exist today, but all professional counselors have undergone formal training to receive a degree in their field. A psychological counselor has a Master’s degree (MA) in psychology or counseling. They also need an additional two years of experience working in the field with a mental health professional in order to obtain their license. A clinical social worker has a Master’s degree in social work and has been specifically trained to evaluate and treat mental illness. It is important that your counselor is a good fit for you personally, and that you feel comfortable talking to him or her. It may take a few tries to find the right person whom you respect and trust.

What is care like?

Health Benefits
The benefits of seeing a counselor are numerous. Here are some common reasons people see counselors:

  • alcohol or substance abuse
  • marital problems
  • depression/anxiety
  • life skills
  • stress management
  • problem-solving
  • conflict resolution

Actions & Experiences During a Session

A counseling session is typically an hour long. If you are just meeting with the counselor (and not in a group), you will discuss any issues or concerns and he or she will ask you questions about these topics. You may do some goal setting and problem-solving, depending on the topic of conversation. By law, your conversations are completely confidential. Your counselor is not allowed to share anything that you say during your sessions.

Duration of Care

Counseling can last as long as you want it to last. Your counselor may make a recommendation based upon your first visit, but the choice is yours. Some patients may work with a counselor for years, and others for days or weeks.

Resources & References

Society of Counseling Psychology

WebMD:Guide to Psychiatry and Counseling

American Mental Health Counselors Association

American Psychological Association

What next?

Search Find Wellness to find licensed counselors in your area. Whether you are seeing a counselor or a clinical social worker, make sure that they have a license.