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What is Counselling?

March 20, 2017

“Counselling is a principled relationship characterised by the application of one or more psychological theories and a recognised set of communication skills, modified by experience, intuition and other interpersonal factors, to clients’ intimate concerns, problems or aspirations. Its predominant ethos is one of facilitation rather than of advice-giving or coercion. It may be of very brief or long duration, take place in an organisational or private practice setting and may or may not overlap with practical, medical and other matters of personal welfare. It is both a distinctive activity undertaken by people agreeing to occupy the roles of counsellor and client and it is an emergent profession…. It is a service sought by people in distress or in some degree of confusion who wish to discuss and resolve these in a relationship which is more disciplined and
confidential than friendship, and perhaps less stigmatising than helping relationships offered in
traditional medical or psychiatric settings.”

Feltharn and Dryden, Dictionary of Counselling, 1993

“Counselling is the application of mental health, psychological or human development principles, through cognitive, affective, behavioral or systemic interventions, strategies that address wellness, personal growth, or career development, as well as pathology.”

Definition accepted by the Governing Council of the American Counselling Association(ACA), 1997

“The definition also includes these additional attributes: 

• Counselling deals with wellness, personal growth, career, and pathological concerns. In other
words, counselors work in areas that involve relationships (Casey, 1996). These areas include
intra- and interpersonal concerns related to finding meaning and adjustment in such settings as
schools, families, and careers.
• Counselling is conducted with persons who are considered to be functioning well and those who
are having more serious problems. Counseling meets the needs of a wide spectrum of people.
Clients seen by counsellors have developmental or situational concerns that require help in
regard to adjustment or remediation. Their problems often require short-term intervention, but
occasionally treatment may be extended to encompass disorders included in the Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (1994) of the American Psychiatric Association.
• Counselling is theory based. Counselors draw from a number of theoretical approaches, including those that are cognitive, affective, behavioral, and systemic. These theories may be applied to individuals, groups, and families.
• Counselling is a process that maybe developmental or intervening. Counsellors focus on their
clients’ goals. Thus, counselling involves both choice and change. In some cases, “counselling is a rehearsal for action” (Casey, 1996, p. 176)”

(taken from


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