What is Counseling Psychology?

The definition used to determine whether applicants/candidates have been functioning as Counseling Psychologists is the definition adopted by the Counseling Psychology Specialty Council, a member of the Council of Specialties, and adopted in some form by the member organizations of the Council at their annual meeting on August 6, 2022.

Counseling Psychology is a generalist health service (HSP) specialty in professional psychology that uses a broad range of culturally informed and culturally sensitive practices to help people improve their well-being, prevent and alleviate distress and maladjustment, resolve crises, and increase their ability to function better in their lives. It focuses specifically but not exclusively on normative life-span development, with a particular emphasis on prevention and education as well as amelioration, addressing individuals as well as the systems or contexts in which they function. It has particular expertise in work and career issues.

Specialized Knowledge
Psychologists have an understanding of and capacity to engage in evidence-based and culturally informed intervention, assessment, prevention, training, and research practices. They focus on healthy aspects and strengths of their clients (whether they are individuals, couples, families, groups, organizations, or communities); environmental/contextual influences (such as cultural, sociopolitical, gender, racial, ethnic, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic factors) that shape people’s experiences and concerns; the role of career and work in peoples’ lives; and advocacy for equity and social justice.

Problems Addressed
Counseling psychologists focus on normative developmental and mental health issues and challenges faced by individuals across their lifespan, as well as systemic challenges (such as prejudice and discrimination) experienced in groups, workplaces, organizations, institutions, and communities. They use strengths-based perspectives and practices to prevent and ameliorate emotional, relational, physical/health-related, social, cultural, vocational, educational, and identity-related problems.

Skills & Procedures Utilized
The procedures and techniques used within Counseling Psychology include, but are not limited to:

  • Individual, couples/family, and group counseling and psychotherapy.
  • Crisis intervention, disaster, and trauma management.
  • Assessment techniques for the identification or diagnosis of psychological problems and disorders.
  • Education and prevention activities.
  • Consultation and intervention in workplaces, organizations, institutions, and communities.
  • Interventions related to work and career issues.
  • Therapy process and outcome assessment and program/services evaluation. 
  • Training and clinical supervision.
  • Construction and validation of psychological instruments and assessment tools.
  • Scientific investigations utilizing a range of research methodologies.
  • Advocacy for equity and social justice for individuals, groups, organizations, institutions, and communities.

Populations Served
Counseling Psychologists serve persons of all ages and cultural backgrounds in individual, group (including couples and families), workplace, organizational, institutional, and community settings. They work with groups and communities to assist them in addressing or preventing problems, as well as to improve the personal and interpersonal functioning of individual members. Counseling psychologists also intervene in organizations, institutions, workplaces, and communities to enhance their effectiveness, climate, and the success and well-being of their members.

Listen to what some graduate students and an early career professional have to say about counseling psychology:

Counseling Psychologists adhere to the standards and ethics established by the American Psychological Association. Recognized by the APA Committee for Recognition of Specialties and Subspecialties in Professional Psychology (CRSSPP), the most recent approved version of the Counseling Psychology specialty petition can be found here.

The Counseling Psychology Taxonomy was reviewed and redesigned by the Counseling Psychology Synarchy group,of which SCP is a member. It was chaired by Julia Phillips, and included SCP, ACCTA, CCPTP, and ABCoP.

Counseling Psychology CoS Taxonomy Template Grid 2021 (PDF)

A related entity is the Counseling Psychology Specialty Council (CPSC), an organization comprised of constituent organizations, which are stakeholders in the specialty of Counseling Psychology. Click here to learn more about the members of the CPSC. The Counseling Psychology Specialty Council is itself a member of the Council of Specialties in Professional Psychology, COSPP, the professional organization comprised of all recognized specialties in professional psychology. The CPSC revised the Counseling Psychology Education and Training Taxonomy which COSPP approved in December 2021. All specialties must have a taxonomy to guide institutions, which seek to provide education and training in that specialty, in their marketing materials. The taxonomies specify the types of training a program must provide at different levels across stages of training. The taxonomies will lead to greater consistency across programs so that there is “truth in advertising,” and trainees understand what type of training each program offers. For more information on the Education & Training Taxonomies, click here.