What is the History of the Counseling Profession?

Updated November 30, 2022 · 1 Min Read

Explore this resource by Best Counseling Degrees to learn all about the history of the counseling profession.

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If you’ve ever considered becoming a therapist or counselor, you might have an interest in the history of the counseling profession.

You’ve probably heard of Sigmund Freud, and you may have heard of his daughter, Anna, as well as other major players in the development of psychoanalysis and modern psychology.

Here’s a closer look at the evolution of counseling, a relatively new career field.

The Industrial Revolution and the Advent of Psychotherapy

Sigmund Freud was born in 1856 during the Industrial Revolution. Scientific and technological advances were making vast changes in European life. A growing middle class began to bridge the gap between rich and poor. Machines began to make life easier for many, and urbanization presented both solutions and problems for the general public. The practice of hypnotism had been popularized by Mesmer in the previous century, and a search for scientific understanding of the mind and psyche was the natural next step for the human race.

Freud began looking for answers to mental problems within the individual’s thought patterns. Focusing on listening to his clients, he made many breakthroughs in treatment and is known as the Father of Psychoanalysis. Others followed in his footsteps and developed new approaches in treating mental illness. Early pioneers in psychoanalysis include Anna Freud, Jacques Lacan and Melanie Klien.

Behaviorism and Psychology in America

Across the Atlantic Ocean in America, pioneers such as Carl Rogers, Eric Berne and Abraham Maslow began focusing more on the individual. Behavioral and humanist models encouraged counselors to focus on the present rather than spotlighting issues from the past.

Modern War and Other Societal Influences

World War I, the first truly modern war, was fought during Sigmund Freud’s lifetime. This became the first war in which automatic weapons, submarines and aircraft all played a part. Advances in medicine saved lives on the battlefield as well as in hospital facilities near the front lines. For the first time, soldiers didn’t have to look in the eyes of the men they killed, and for the first time a condition known as “shell shock,” now understood as post-traumatic stress disorder, became understood as an effect of war.

By the middle of the 20th century, life had changed for people across Europe and North America. In the wake of World War II, research psychologists began studying the reasons behind human behavior. Infamous experiments such as the Milgram Study and the Stanford Prison Experiment, all of which are considered deeply unethical today, helped to shed light on the reasons behind many war crimes that occurred during the Holocaust.

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Modern Counseling

One of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century was B.F. Skinner. Building on research from scientists such as Pavlov, Thorndike and Guthrie, Skinner developed and tested the reasoning behind human behavior. Modern cognitive behavioral therapy, the most common form of psychotherapy used in counseling today, stems from the work of B.F. Skinner combined with the psychoanalytic principles developed and tested by Aaron T. Beck.

Resource: Online Master's Degrees in Counseling

Although counseling is a relatively new field of study and practice, its history is nuanced and interesting. Now that you have a more full understanding of the history of the counseling profession, what are your thoughts on the men and women who shaped the field?

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