It should come as no surprise to anyone that psychology, like many fields, contains a variety of special sub-fields and various applications of the discipline, such as counseling psychology.
If you've ever seen the term in print and asked, "What, precisely, is Counseling Psychology, and how is it different from other types of psychology practice?," you certainly aren't alone. This particular sub-field is a part of what is termed professional psychology, and below we'll talk more about what it is and how it functions as a sub-field.
Academic vs. Practical
It's often the case that certain professions and terms become a part of common parlance without people knowing quite what they mean. Counseling is one of many different culturally sensitive manifestations of social psychology.
Before we go too far down this rabbit hole, let's divide the field itself into two big halves—Academic and Practical. The former group encompasses sub-fields such as abnormal and clinical psychology, which can be used in counseling, but are also legitimate pursuits within the realm of pure research. Practical applications of the discipline focus largely on working with and assisting people within a community. They are reactive and responsive sub-disciplines that may be used as a means to benefit the social groups in which they are employed.
But what does it do? Professional counselors offer guidance and support, both to individuals and groups. They assist in the staging of interventions, help people from all walks of life navigate the complex problems that can arise in social situations, and often serve as a sounding board for people suffering from emotional stress, social anxiety, substance abuse issues, or even serious mental disorders.
Techniques such as non-directive counseling have become popularized and broadly satirized by Western societies, but this does not lessen their efficacy. They listen and guide people, provide a safe environment in which to be vulnerable, and help patients to explore sometimes-painful or difficult emotional states in order to better cope with situations in their daily lives.
The Importance of the Counseling Psychologist
We're still learning a great deal about how the human mind works and how it intersects with our physical reality. Counselors often help individuals to cope with psychologically difficult events, perspectives, and conditions that impact them in a physical way such that it transcends the body—sudden disability, substance issues, interpersonal dynamics and mental conditions with organic ties, such as schizoaffective disorders, and issues that fall on the autistic spectrum.
For those who feel the field lacks in professional rigor or oversight, counseling psychologists adhere to a strict, peer-policing code of ethics. This ensures that any professional committing a breech of conduct is held accountable—whether that translates to harmful approaches in therapy or other severely frowned upon behaviors. Their roles within society are many, and too important to be left to the whims of individuals.
In other cultures and times, the same duties fulfilled by the counselor were often considered supreme responsibilities. Individuals within these other contexts were invested with extraordinary social power, and wielded influence that transcended the respective social hierarchies of their cultures. These societies and social groups recognized the intense power of the mind and the need for individuals to have a trusted guide, an individual with the expertise to address difficulties that arose in daily life.
Counselors today are no less cognizant of that enormous responsibility. They receive specialized training, and take their role, not themselves, very seriously. If you'd like to know more about counseling psychology, resources are available online and through the American Psychological Association (APA).