A Guide to the Different Types of Counseling

Everyone needs a little help sometimes, but the kind of help varies greatly. It’s not one size fits all, which is why there are many different types of counseling roles and clinical approaches. And though there are different types of counselors, and even different ways to specialize in those fields, most have a number of different methods in their toolbox to serve different patients in different ways.

Counselors can choose from a wide range of areas to fine-tune their abilities to help people find peace and resolution in their relationships, behavioral struggles, and mindsets. From helping a couple strengthen their marriage to being instrumental in helping an addict get their life back to ushering a third grader through a difficult time at school, counselors are needed in every corner of society and for all walks of life.

How many different types of counseling are there? Let’s dig into that question and look at the different schools of thought as well as the careers in specific counseling specialties.

The Main Types of Counseling

Humans are complex, to say the least, as are the ways to help them with their psychological and emotional problems, but the different types of counseling can be broken down into clear categories. So, what are the three main types of counseling? Psychodynamic, humanistic, and behavioral approaches are the most common and each support different individual therapies. Counselors often focus on one of these methods, but sometimes combine different aspects from various methods to put together the most effective therapies.

Sigmund Freud book among stack of othersPsychodynamic or Psychoanalytic

Psychodynamic or psychoanalytic techniques have their roots in Papa Psychoanalysis himself, Sigmund Freud, although the method has evolved over the decades. The main idea is that to understand someone’s problem, a counselor must first explore and understand that person’s mind. This doesn’t just include feelings and emotions, but also involves diving into things that might be buried in the subconscious and unconscious, such as past (and possibly forgotten) traumas and discovering potentially negative associations and drives that might be influencing present-day problems. Psychodynamic counseling aims to help patients become aware of the different aspects of their minds and personalities and reach a mental balance, recognizing their hidden motivations.

Behavioral Counseling

Behavioral counseling is for patients struggling with unwanted behaviors, such as eating disorders or anxiety attacks. With this method, it’s believed that a person’s behavior is determined by their environment, and that the problem will persist as long as the patient remains in the environment that reinforces or encourages it. Examining past learning is key to behavioral counseling because if the behavior was learned, it can be unlearned, or so the thought goes. Behavioral counselors may use different types of counseling therapy to guide patients to a change in behavior, but the desired result is the same.

Humanistic Counseling

The humanistic type of counseling is based on the assumption that every individual is unique and has room to grow emotionally and psychologically. Rather than focus on life events, humanistic methods examine how a patient experiences those events, and in turn how those experiences make them feel. In this type of counseling, the goal is to help the patient become mindful of how their responses to life events can affect them. Humanistic counselors arm patients with the skills to work through their problems and find their own solutions.

While these three main types of counseling are the most well-known, there’s another type that’s often employed by counselors. In that case, what are the four types of counseling?Client-centered counseling can be added to the list of top approaches. Client-centered counseling, which is an offshoot of humanistic counseling, relies on the belief that we all have the resources we need already within us to cope with life’s difficulties. In this type of counseling, the client is the expert on their own feelings and thoughts, not the counselor. The counselor’s role is to clarify and reflect what the patient is saying, not to ask questions or interpret anything for the patient.

Other Popular Counseling Methods

In addition to these main types of counseling, there are three other methods that are commonly used as well. What are the six methods of counseling? The methods most used by counselors are psychoanalytic, humanistic, and behavioral, as explained above, but also cognitive, constructionist, and systemic.

Cognitive Counseling

Cognitive counseling, such as reality therapy and acceptance therapy, is aimed at aligning a patient’s thinking with reality. It’s believed that when thinking and reality are out of sync, it causes psychological and emotional difficulties. So cognitive counselors challenge thinking patterns and try to bring them in line with reality so that patients can discover accurate solutions to their problems.

Constructionist Counseling

Constructionist counseling is based on the belief that knowledge is simply a constructed understanding of events, rather than the actual events themselves. It’s in this meaning-making process that people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are shaped. Constructionist counselors help clients change these problematic constructions of themselves, their relationships, and the world.

Systemic Counseling

Systemic counseling assumes that thinking, feeling, and behavior are formed and influenced by social systems. Since societal pressures are the focus, systemic counselors look at a person’s difficulties in relation to their role in their families and other social networks.

While these different types of counseling therapy are based in some very different belief systems, they all have the same goal: To help people overcome problems and challenges and to allow them to live more fulfilling lives. A counselor has the ability to choose which method best fits their personal view and style, as well as which best serves their client population.

What Are the Different Types of Counselors?

Just as the different types of counseling span a wide range, so do the different types of counselors. Counselors all share the same desire to help people live happier and more fulfilling lives by overcoming challenges and moving past setbacks, whether they’re mental, social, or behavioral.

Behavioral Disorder Counselors

There are behavioral disorder counselors who work to reduce negative behaviors and point patients toward positive behaviors. These negative behaviors could involve substance abuse, self-harm, gambling, or weight loss or gain, among many others.

Marriage and Family Therapists

Marriage and family therapists are invaluable resources to couples and families who need guidance to get through tough times. Marriage and family therapists help patients process their emotions, behaviors, and reactions in their relationships, whether between spouses, siblings, or even friends and coworkers.

Mental Health Counselors

Mental health counselors work with clients to address specific issues affecting their mental well-being, such as depression, anxiety, or low self-esteem. This type of counselor will also often collaborate with other mental health professionals including doctors and social workers and set clients up with community resources like support groups.

School and Child Counselors

School and child counselors help children and adolescents deal with emotional and mental issues so that they can develop in the healthiest ways possible. Since school is a big part of a child’s life, school counselors are essential in this development and handle academic, personal, and social problems that children might face. Beyond childhood, school counselors continue to play a role in career and college counseling.

Entering the counseling field allows professionals to choose from a variety of specialized career paths. There are many different types of counseling involved in counseling therapist and counseling psychology careers. These may focus on specific issues like grief or job stress or take a more holistic approach to promoting mental wellness. No matter the type of counselor or the type of counseling, the work that counselors are doing changes lives, relationships, and society for the better every day.

There’s a type of counselor for every individual, every issue, and in every area of life. Some other examples of careers in counseling include:

  • Career counselors who help guide clients toward fulfilling careers that match their interests and personalities
  • Child abuse counselors who help victims of child abuse to cope with trauma and move forward in safe environments, and child counselors who address behavioral, social, and emotional issues in children
  • Conflict resolution and couples counselors who help resolve disputes and ease stresses in relationships, leading to better communication and mutual respect
  • Depression and grief counselors who help people cope with loss and overcome depression to improve quality of life
  • Guidance and school counselors who help students develop socially and personally and lead them toward good career and educational choices

Not only are there many diverse counseling specialties, but the places where therapists work are just as diverse. Not all counselors work in clinical settings or talk to clients on overstuffed leather couches (although a comfy couch isn’t a bad choice). Some do work in hospitals, outpatient clinics, private practices, and care facilities, while others serve in residential settings, religious institutions, schools, and even retail businesses.

Types of Mental Illnesses

Young woman relaxing at sunriseThere are hundreds of known mental illnesses that can affect mood, thinking, feeling, and behavior. Some of these mental illnesses are occasional and some chronic, some are caused by experiences or injuries and others by genetics or biology. They can all impact how a person functions in life and in society.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders include a large swath of common mental illnesses, such as panic disorder and phobias. In anxiety disorders, people respond to certain things with fear and dread.

Mood Disorders

Mood disorders include depression and bipolar disorder and often involve periods of deep sadness or feeling overly happy, or extreme fluctuations between the two.

Psychotic Disorders

Psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia, involve the two most common symptoms of hallucinations and delusions.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders involve extreme behaviors, emotions, and attitudes toward food and body weight.

Personality Disorders

Personality disorders cause a person to have extreme traits that are distressing to them and can cause problems in their lives.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder affects many people and results from a traumatic of terrifying event, often involving frightening and lasting thoughts of the event. Relatedly, stress response syndromes involve a person developing emotional and behavioral symptoms in response to stressful events.

These mental illnesses and more can be managed by counselors trained to help people who suffer from them. Some treatments are intended to end the illness while others give patients the tools that they need to live with them. With the enormous spectrum of mental illnesses and stressful situations that people face, it’s clear why there are so many different types of counseling, different types of counselors, and different counseling specialties.

Each one serves a purpose to ensure that people have the means to live safer, happier, and more functional lives.