Mental and Behavioral Health Counseling

Mental Health Counseling as a profession is relatively new. It grew out of the guidance movement, in opposition to traditional psychotherapy. Guidance is the process of helping people make important choices that affect their lives. One distinction between guidance and counseling is that while guidance focuses on helping individuals choose what they value most, counseling focuses on helping them make changes.

Psychotherapy (or therapy) traditionally focuses on serious problems associated with intrapsychic ¹, internal, and personal issues and conflicts. It emphasizes on the past more than the present, on insight more than change, on the detachment of the therapist, and the therapist’s role as an expert. Psychotherapists and clinical psychologists generally use the term psychotherapy to describe their work.

In addition,  psychotherapy usually involves a long-term relationship (20 to 40 sessions over a period of six months to two years) that focuses on reconstructive change. Counseling, on the other hand, tends to be a short-term relationship (8 to 12 sessions spread over a period of less than six months) and focuses on the relationship of developmental and situational problems.

Mental Health Counseling Defined

Mental Health Counseling can be more precisely defined as a relatively short-term, interpersonal, theory-based process of helping persons who are basically psychologically healthy resolve developmental and situational problems. Counseling activities are guided by ethical and legal standards and go through distinct stages from initiation to termination. Personal, social, vocational, and educational matters are all areas of concern; and the profession encompasses a number of sub specialties. A practitioner must complete a required course of study on either the master’s or doctoral level to be licensed or certified as a professional. 

Foot Notes:

  1. Intrapsychic is a psychological term referring to internal psychological processes of the individual. These processes can be positive (egosyntonic), negative (egodystonic) or neutral.