In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Counseling Psychology

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • History
  • Counseling Practice
  • Ethics and Practice Guidelines
  • Foundations of Research
  • Multicultural Competencies and Social Justice
  • Diverse Social Identities
  • Vocational Psychology
  • Career Counseling
  • Positive Psychology
  • Health and Prevention
  • Training and Professional Issues

Psychology Counseling Psychology
Elizabeth Nutt Williams
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 January 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 13 January 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0146


Counseling psychology is a specialty within psychology that focuses on counseling, research, and assessment in which close attention is paid to individual’s assets and psychological strengths. Counseling psychologists have three primary roles: remedial (e.g., working to help correct problems), preventative (e.g., interventions focused on forestalling problems), and developmental (e.g., skills training and psychoeducational approaches). The primary interventions of the specialty tend to be brief and cover a variety of settings (e.g., counseling, training, consultation, outreach). Gelso, et al. 2014, Counseling Psychology (cited under Reference Works), summarizes the enduring central values of counseling psychology, noting it has (1) an emphasis on a person’s strengths and optimal functioning; (2) a focus on the whole person, with particular emphasis on life-span development and vocational growth; (3) a commitment to advocacy and social justice, maintaining an ongoing awareness of the importance of environmental context and culture; (4) a concentration on brief, educational, and preventive counseling interventions; and (5) a dedication to the scientist-practitioner model. While counseling psychology’s abiding interest in vocational guidance began in 1908 with the establishment of a vocations bureau by Frank Parsons, most view the field of counseling psychology as beginning with the role of psychologists (in assessment of military personnel) in the 1940s during World War II. The Division of Counseling and Guidance (Division 17) of the American Psychological Association was formally established in 1946. Division 17 changed its name in 1951 to the Division of Counseling Psychology, and again in 2003 to the Society of Counseling Psychology. The major journals in counseling psychology were founded in 1954 (the Journal of Counseling Psychology, cited under Journals) and 1969 (The Counseling Psychologist, cited under Journals).The field’s history can also be marked by its major conferences. The first conference for counseling psychology was held in 1951 at Northwestern University. It was at this conference that the scientist-practitioner model of training was formally endorsed. The field has held a major conference approximately every dozen years since then (1964, Greyston Conference; 1973, Vail Conference; 1987, Georgia Conference; 2001, Houston Conference). At each conference, the field strengthened its identity and debated issues of importance to the field, such as social justice initiatives and multicultural competencies. In 1999, Division 17 was one of the founding divisions (along with divisions 35, 44, and 45) of the National Multicultural Conference and Summit (NMCS). In 2008 the Society of Counseling Psychology held its first international conference in Chicago, acknowledging the global nature of counseling psychology. In fact, there has been a growing emphasis in the field on ensuring transnational and global perspectives in science and practice (see Gerstein, et al. 2009, cited under Reference Works).

Reference Works

Whiteley 1980 provided an early perspective on the history of the field. The primary textbook in the field, Gelso, et al. 2014, extends the history of the field into the present. Altmaier and Hansen 2012, Brown and Lent 2008, and Fouad, et al. 2012 are comprehensive handbooks in the field that give excellent overviews of counseling psychology at large, as does Walsh 2008, a biennial review of the field. Other handbooks on more specific foundational topics in counseling psychology, such as multiculturalism, social justice, vocational psychology, prevention, positive psychology, and psychotherapy research, are discussed in following sections.

  • Altmaier, E. M., and J. C. Hansen, eds. 2012. The Oxford handbook of counseling psychology. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Altmaier and Hansen provide an overview of the life span of counseling psychology, from its foundations and contextual perspectives to its applications in counseling and intersections with related fields, such as health psychology, sports psychology, and trauma psychology.

  • Brown, S. D., and R. W. Lent, eds. 2008. Handbook of counseling psychology. 4th ed. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

    In the fourth edition of their groundbreaking handbook, Brown and Lent offer perspectives on professional and scientific issues in counseling psychology, as well as overviews of the field’s emphasis on counseling, multiculturalism, vocational psychology, and prevention.

  • Fouad, N. A., J. A. Carter, and L. M. Subich, eds. 2012. APA handbook of counseling psychology. 2 vols. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    In a two-volume work (Volume 1, Theories, Research, and Methods; Volume 2, Practice, Interventions, and Applications), Fouad, Carter, and Subich provide a rich detailing of the theories, methodologies, research, and interventions in the field, including new directions into forensics, immigration, and aging.

  • Gelso, C. J., and B. R. Fretz. 2014. Counseling psychology. 2d ed. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt.

    As the only text on the specialty of counseling psychology, Gelso, Williams, and Fretz, in the third edition of this textbook, emphasize the historical and scientific foundations of the field, with particular attention to career psychology, health and wellness, social justice, and psychotherapy research. The second part of the book is dedicated to the practice of counseling psychology, including a focus on individuals, families, and groups.

  • Gerstein, L. H., P. P. Heppner, S. Ægisdóttir, A. L. Seung-Ming, and K. L. Norsworthy. 2009. International handbook of cross-cultural counseling: Cultural assumptions and practice worldwide. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    This handbook covers a wide-range of transnational issues relevant to counseling psychology, including a focus on the counseling profession (including cultural considerations in research as well as opportunities and challenges in cross-cultural counseling). In addition, a long list of countries are directly included (e.g., Iceland, United Arab Emirates, Ecuador, Nigeria, Malaysia, and Kyrgyzstan), providing an overview of the cultural values in those countries that shape counselor and clients attitudes and practices.

  • Walsh, W. B., ed. 2008. Biennial review of counseling psychology. New York: Routledge.

    Topics covered in this biennial review include those related to historical developments in counseling psychology, issues around practice, health and strengths-based development, social identities, vocational psychology, and professional roles in a changing world.

  • Whiteley, J. M. 1980. The history of counseling psychology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

    In this work, Whiteley provided the first history of the field, examining the founding of the field, its development from vocational guidance to counseling psychology, and the establishment of its primary journals, training standards, and first national conferences.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.