Counseling has, at its core, the goal of helping individuals overcome the mental, emotional, and behavioral obstacles that hold them back from living healthy, purposeful lives. By facilitating behavior change, improving the ability to establish and maintain relationships, enhancing the ability to cope, and promoting good decision-making, counselors help their clients reach their potential and achieve lifelong personal development.
While the goal of counseling remains relatively constant, the counseling approaches and counseling techniques for achieving that goal vary widely, informing how counselors interact with their clients. Ottawa University’s Master of Arts in Counseling explores the most common counseling theories and helps you determine which approach is right for you. Here are just a few.
Popular Counseling Theories
1. Psychotherapy Counseling
Most everyone is familiar with Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychotherapy, which is the most well-known of the counseling approaches. This method concerns itself with the subconscious, especially early experiences that have been repressed, and brings them to the forefront through techniques such as dream analysis, hypnotism, free association, and transference to identify and overcome complex feelings and behaviors.
2. Humanistic Counseling
Rather than focusing on negative past experiences, the humanistic counseling technique is a client-centered approach that believes the client possesses the ability to self-heal through positive guidance and encouragement. Developed by Carl Rogers, the humanistic counseling theory promotes such things as acceptance, empathy, curiosity, and intuition to achieve self-growth and actualization in a non-judgmental environment. Akin to existential therapy, the humanistic approach helps clients find meaning in their lives by focusing on free will, self-determination, and responsibility.
3. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT combines two counseling techniques: cognitive therapy, which focuses on the relationship between one’s thoughts and subsequent feelings and behavior; and behavioral therapy, which believes behavior is learned and can therefore be unlearned or altered. The cognitive approach centers on the present rather than the past and involves problem-solving of specific behaviors or distorted thinking. When combined with behavioral therapy, new learning experiences can be introduced to correct former maladaptive learning processes that led to undesirable behavior and thought patterns. This can be done using such approaches as classical conditioning, which was introduced by Ivan Pavlov, and operant conditioning using rewards and punishments, which was advocated by B.F. Skinner. Other methods include exposure, cognitive restructuring, and social skills training.
4. Narrative Therapy
A relatively new technique, narrative therapy gives ownership to the client for re-writing their life story to change the way negative experiences and influences shape their perception of self, their relationships, and the world around them. It gives clients a voice for shaping their perception of and response to life events, challenging unhealthy beliefs, and creating alternative views of problematic stories so they can derive meaning and direction in line with their goals and values.
5. Creative Therapy
This counseling theory utilizes various art mediums as a source of promoting mental health and wellbeing. Music therapy, art therapy, and other creative outlets are aimed at non-verbal forms of expression that foster positive emotions and help reduce psychological symptoms.
6. Integrative Therapy
Integrative or holistic therapy incorporates techniques from various counseling theories to promote healing for the client. Counselors are free to utilize traditional and non-traditional methods based on the needs of the individual client.
Discover Your Counseling Approach at Ottawa University
These counseling theories are just a few that counselors can focus their studies and practice on. Other approaches include Existential Therapy, Mindfulness-Based Counseling, Rational Emotive Therapy, Reality Therapy, Constructionist Therapy, Systemic Therapy, Interpersonal Counseling, and more. The approach you choose may also depend on the area of counseling you choose to specialize in. For example, Ottawa University offers four concentrations as part of its Master of Arts in Counseling program to help you target your counseling career:
What's more important than the specific method of counseling you adopt, however, is the relationship you will share with your clients and the skills you will use to build the key element of trust required to help them achieve healing.
Best Skills for Counselors
No amount of training can help you become an effective counselor if you don’t incorporate the right counseling skills when putting your knowledge into practice. That’s why the faculty within Ottawa University’s Master of Arts in Counseling program help you work toward developing the following traits:
- Empathy - the ability to see where the other person is coming from with genuine care and concern without judgment.
- Active Listening – ensuring the client feels heard and understood through both verbal and non-verbal responses, including techniques such as paraphrasing and clarifying questions.
- Strength-Based Practice – reinforcing what is positive in the client’s life vs focusing on the negative to help clients see their ability to make progress and seek more of the positive.
- Cultural Competence – understanding diverse client characteristics such as age, race, gender identity, and socioeconomic background and how they impact the client’s view of himself. Beyond cultural competence, counselors should also exercise cultural humility, acknowledging their inability to fully understand these factors.
- Assessment – the ability to clearly and knowledgeably assess complex issues like depression, anxiety, substance abuse, relationship issues, and mental health problems to provide a counseling framework and treatment for effecting change.
- Client Engagement – utilizing a variety of tools, such as motivational interviewing, family genograms, and use of self, to actively engage the client in the counseling process.
- Developing Goals and Treatment Plans – the ability to create personalized goals for each client and develop and implement a comprehensive treatment plan as the foundation of the counseling process.
- Recognizing the Effects of Trauma – the ability to identify and treat the type of trauma a client has experienced through exploration of what has happened to them, whether as a child or an adult.
- Self-Exploration and Understanding – the counselor’s ability to explore his or her personal history to identify familial issues, cultural biases, trauma, patterns of behavior, strengths, and weaknesses to determine how those factors affect their worldview and might impact their counseling methods.
- Evidence-Based Practice – staying abreast of the latest research and new interventions to improve the counselor’s practice and ensure the best experience for the client.
Careers in Counseling
In addition to choosing from the various counseling theories, you will also have a variety of settings you can choose to work in as a counselor. Schools, clinics, community mental health centers, family counseling centers, churches, hospitals, hospice programs, and private practices all utilize counselors to serve individuals, families, couples, or groups. You can also work with specific populations, such as aging adults, college students, veterans, or children. The types of behavior and mental health issues a counselor might address range from such conditions as anxiety, depression, and relationship problems to suicidal tendencies, addiction, and behavioral disorders.
The need for counselors is rising significantly, and there are many employment opportunities for graduates of Ottawa University’s counseling program. The career outlook for counselors is expected to grow by 23% from 2020 to 2030, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. Your MA in Counseling will set you on the pathway to a variety of careers related to counseling:
- Community Health Workers
- Correctional Treatment Specialists
- Health Education Specialists
- Marriage and Family Therapists
- Probation Officers
- Rehabilitation Counselors
- School and Career Counselors and Advisors
- Social and Community Service Managers
- Social and Human Service Assistants
- Social Workers
Keep in mind that many counseling jobs require state licensure. This program is designed to meet the educational requirements in the states of Arizona and Wisconsin for licensure, and the student should ensure the degree meets the requirements of the state in which they live.
Career Self Reflection
Maybe it’s time to do a little self-reflecting about the career you’ve been feeling called to. What’s holding you back? Ottawa University’s Master of Arts in Counseling can help you get started on a counseling career that will change lives – yours, and the clients you will serve. Reach out today for more information!
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