Anyone who has had the opportunity to work with a skilled counselor can likely state the personal benefits of the experience.
Self-reporting always offers challenges in building empirical evidence. An abundance of meta-analyses has gathered scientific proof that there are similar results across cultures, socioeconomic backgrounds, and diagnoses.
Come along to read more about the science behind the benefits of counseling.
This article contains:
- 10 Empirically Proven Benefits of Mental Health Counseling
- The Benefits of Counseling in Schools
- Advantages of Marriage and Couples Counseling
- 6 Benefits of Group Counseling
- Family Counseling Advantages
- How About Work Counseling?
- 5 Benefits of Counseling for Depression and Anxiety
- A Look at the Benefits of HIV and Health Counseling
- A Take-Home Message
10 Empirically Proven Benefits of Mental Health Counseling
Being mentally healthy has many benefits. How those mental health benefits are realized can come through the process of mental health counseling. The efficacy of psychotherapy and other forms of counseling has been debated for years. Meta-analyses have brought empirical proof of the benefits that many experiences from undergoing mental health counseling (Brown, 1987).
Historically, the misinterpretation of Freudian speculation has tainted the modern understanding of the benefits of psychotherapy (Shedler, 2010). There are many benefits that some may not realize due to the stigma that remains specifically around psychoanalytical methods of counseling.
The following seven features were reliably noted as efficacious:
- A focus on affect and expression of emotions. Rather than on cognitive factors, psychoanalysis focuses on feelings.
- Exploration of attempts to avoid distressing thoughts and feelings.
- Identification of patterns and recurring themes in emotions.
- Discussion of past experience with a developmental focus.
- A focus on interpersonal relations.
- A focus on the therapeutic relationship.
- Safe exploration of fantasy life.
Knowing that about 18% of the population has presented with some form of mental disorder or disruption (Harvey, 2015) is a call to action. While people may receive a diagnosis or psycho-pharmaceutical intervention, a drastic amount of those diagnosed do not receive the counseling that may help them to thrive. Access to and affordability of services in many areas need to be improved (Wang et al., 2009).
New areas of counseling have grown in the last ten years with the use of technology. Online counseling has offered patients instant access, but little empirical data has been gathered as to the benefits of this access (Cohen, 1999). Some patients facing anxiety have found value in computer counseling interactions, such as being more aware of internal processes.
To meet the empirical expectations of the American Psychological Association, a task force was established to focus on effective interventions in the 1990s. This led to the movement called the empirically validated treatment (EVT) (Wampold et al., 2002). When determining scientific validity for interventions, seven principles were provided to aid in the classifications.
- When evaluating intervention outcomes, a level of specificity must be considered. Gathering evidence of the efficacy of interventions can then be categorized from a broad categorization to a refined and more specific categorization.
- The level of specificity should not be limited to DSM diagnosis. This principle enables practitioners to consider the whole person in treatment, rather than providing interventions based solely on the disorder they are treating.
- Scientific evidence needs to be determined in its entirety, as all studies will face difficulties.
- Absolute vs. relative efficacy needs to be presented.
- Causal attributions for specific ingredients should be made only if the evidence is persuasive… Highlights common factors in comparison to particular claims of individual components of an intervention causing the desired outcome.
- Outcomes should be assessed broadly. One intervention for stress should affect all other aspects of life.
- Regions will present differences in outcomes and should be assessed along with freedom of choice.
These principles are important in understanding that practitioners should always consider the broader picture of a client.
Having a perspective of science that is interwoven with the personal approach and specific understanding of individual experience is vital for outcomes to be desirable and effective. While an intervention may work well with one client, another may find it completely inappropriate and unhelpful to their circumstances.
Positive psychology studies have empirically proven that specific interventions increase happiness and decrease depressive symptoms (Seligman, 2005). It was suggested early in this science that in the hands of a skilled clinician or coach, the effects of specific interventions would improve outcomes for clients. Studies utilizing random controlled, placebo assignment design have proven with solid science that happiness interventions work.
The following are the interventions utilized in the original study. Counselors, coaches, and other clinicians can use these interventions after a well-formed client relationship has been established. It is important to note that these interventions should be utilized with clients wanting to change their happiness levels.
1. Gratitude Visit
Writing a letter to someone that was particularly kind, but was not adequately thanked.
2. Three Good Things
Write down three things that went well and what caused those good things to occur nightly for one week.
3. Your Peak Self
Imagine a time when you were at your best. Reflect on the personal strengths that were in use at that time. For one week, reflect on this story of your peak self and focus on determining what personal strengths were in use.
4. Character Strengths
Identify VIA strengths and commit to utilizing them in a new way each day for one week.
The benefits determined to be enjoyed from these interventions were improved states of happiness and decreases in depressive symptoms. Adhering to the previously listed principles is important in understanding the usage of these interventions, as clinicians know that it is not a “one size fits all” type of work.
All clients will have various outcomes from alternative interventions. However, the work done within the therapeutic relationship with positive psychology interventions potentially have compelling value in improving wellbeing.
Reduction in chronic pain has been a proven benefit of interventions in CBT (Ehde et al., 2014). Variations in the delivery of interventions concerning chronic pain have shown improvement in the adaptation to that pain in various populations. Skilled CBT practitioners can improve underserved populations with improved knowledge in the field.
Knowing that the APA has teams in place to determine how evidence is collected ensures that people in the field are getting information that is applicable. Here are a few benefits that have been collected as benefits of counseling across modality:
- Increased skills in interpersonal communication.
- Improved interpersonal relationships.
- Decreased depressive symptoms.
- Decreased anxiety symptoms.
- Reduction in pharmaceutical interventions.
- Improved quality of life.
- Clarity of behavioral contribution to wellbeing.
- Reduction of suicidal ideation.
- Improvement in emotional self regulation.
- Reduction in substance misuse.
The Benefits of Counseling in Schools
Children are expected to maintain excellent academic standing, interact well with peers, and become involved with extracurricular activities.
Currently, kids are under more pressure than previous generations. They are facing new challenges and interactions that include technological advancements, whose effects are undergoing rigorous scientific study.
When parents send their children off to school, it can be unnerving knowing that their child is facing this pressure without the parental helping hand in their backpack. Counseling in schools offers a tremendous resource to combat the pressures of being today’s kid.
School counselors are given a wide variety of challenges and, in some cases, heartbreaking environments where children’s ability to thrive is extremely limited.
Counseling in schools offers the following benefits:
- Improvements in communication
- Peer group facilitation
- Supported emotional exploration
- Advocacy for suspected neglect, or abuse
- Improvements in attention and academic achievement
- Reduction in anger and behavioral outbursts
School counselors face many challenges. A meta-analysis has shown that the ratio of counselors to students makes a big difference in academic achievement (Goodman-Scott et al., 2018). This ratio directly impacts the ability to serve students. In an impoverished area, the ratio should differ from more affluent populations, as counselors with too many students are limited in the ability to serve them well.
Improving communication between school and parents is another benefit of school counseling. Some counselors may even offer assistance in bringing coping skills home for children experiencing symptoms of anxiety. Accommodations within the school setting are also developed, so that a child can find support from a counselor when their environment becomes too overwhelming.
Advantages of Marriage and Couples Counseling
With divorce rates soaring and incidents of domestic violence wreaking havoc on society, the benefits of marriage and couples counseling could not be more needed. Too many people enter their unions with a Disney Princess type mentality of their happily ever after. What they come to realize is that life can be stressful, and if a couple does not handle that stress well together, it can end badly.
Perspective shifting in marriage counseling is a vital benefit. Skilled, evidence-based providers will attempt to shift a perspective from blame to a broader cooperative and co-created view. Patterns of dysfunctional reactivity in couples create ill feelings and block intimacy from occurring.
Behavior and the choice of how a couple interacts is a shift that can be very beneficial in couples counseling. Dysfunctional interaction can sometimes lead to violence and other potentially dangerous behavior. Counselors can help relationships improve by reducing the occurrence of these behaviors.
Another benefit of marriage counseling is in the area of emotional avoidance. Through a good counselor, marriages can improve by decreasing this avoidance. Couples who can effectively speak about what they’re feeling with each other allow intimacy to flourish.
Communication in relationships is critical. Without the proper ability to speak to each other, couples can develop poor habits in communication that create more conflict that further deteriorates the marriage bond. Counseling gives couples a framework for the “how” of communication.
Counseling in couples also allows focusing on a relationship’s strengths. Within every relationship, some things work well. Couples who can highlight what works well and focus on building other areas that are lacking, build true resilience.
Relationship counseling can improve wellbeing in the couples, but also the people around the couple, including children. The Gottman Institute has helped couples in saving marriages from divorce. Dr. Gottman has said that most marriages fail because the couple does not receive counseling early enough for the benefits to be realized.
The statistics on the benefits of couples and marriage counseling have been studied and reported by Dr. Gottman and Dr. Levenson for over 20 years. Their pioneering work has influenced practitioners across the globe. It has been reported that Dr. Gottman can predict the longevity of a couples’ relationship within minutes of meeting them. What has been found is that most couples wait too long to seek counseling.
6 Benefits of Group Counseling
There have been over 50 clinical studies that have determined the efficacy of group counseling. Participants find benefits that, in some ways, surpass the benefits of individual counseling. According to the International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, group therapy far exceeds the standards of efficacy for many psychological disorders (Burlingame, 2003).
Within the meta-analysis listed above, a particular improvement in participants experiencing depressive symptoms were more significant than others. Knowing that belonging and interactive support is significant in improving overall wellbeing suggests that group therapy can offer this kind of support.
Here are some other benefits reportedly gained through group therapy:
- Improved communication and social skills
- Support network and social encouragement
- Relatability and improvements in healthy behaviors
- Increases in perspective due to diversity in group dynamics
- Affordability of care (Thimm & Antonsen, 2014)
- Safe space to develop assertiveness and appropriate boundaries through self-insight
Family Counseling Advantages
Families are unique units of emotions. Parents and children have their wellbeing interwoven.
They support each other when things are going well and struggle to support each other when conflicts inevitably arise. These precious units are the greatest incubator of positive psychology that exists in the world, according to Lea Waters, Ph.D., author of The Strength Switch.
When any family member struggles, the entire unit struggles. Proper communication leads to improvements in familial interactions. Building family resilience can be facilitated and nurtured in a counseling modality.
Emotions in families requiring counseling are often raw and deeply felt. Counseling sessions can assist families in processing ill feelings in an effort to create new pathways for family connection. Family counseling offers safe spaces for all family members to have their feelings heard and their needs met.
Increasing health care costs have given new glimpses into the efficiency of treatment for mental health (Fals-Stewart, 2005). In one analysis, family therapy was found to be a highly effective and efficient way to treat mental health difficulties.
Delivering counseling in a group setting is usually more cost-effective, and knowing that it also offers increased family cohesion makes it an empirically backed approach to treatment for many mental health struggles.
Increased empathy helps relationships in the family to flourish fully. Each family member’s ability to accept the emotional presentation of other family members allows for deeper understanding and connection. During the teen years, empathy does not always come easily. Stressing this in family counseling is helpful.
Reduced conflict and improved management of anger can be a benefit of family counseling. Family counseling is utilized in combating a wide range of psychological disruption. With guidance, families can effectively navigate diagnoses and receive evidence-based approaches toward one another in a safe environment.
Improvement in perceived familial support is an additional benefit of family counseling. Family members may believe that they are supporting each other from their perspectives, but when the messages are misperceived, dysfunction can arise. A supported environment where each party can speak specific and well-laid boundaries leads to deeper understanding and interconnection.
How About Work Counseling?
A greater focus on wellbeing at work has taken hold since the introduction of positive psychology at the beginning of the century. With wellbeing comes the free expression of negative emotions, which can prove to be a problematic area for working people to navigate. The benefits of counseling at work are plentiful.
Self-improvement is very profitable and is a growth industry, especially in corporations. There are countless businesses improving work environments through mindfulness and wellbeing awareness. Human resources departments offer support for employees as well.
Career counseling not only offers personal development but also improves group dynamics and teamwork. A cohesive team environment is more profitable and, overall, a more pleasant environment for employees. It can also create a space for purpose to flourish, which results in better work engagement.
Improving self-efficacy and a sense of agency is an important side effect of career counseling — a safe, supportive environment where constructive goal setting and achievement are possible. Improving employee connection in a workplace improves overall wellbeing as well.
Resolving interpersonal conflicts at the workplace is one significant benefit to career counseling (Robertson, 2013). Many people working together will inevitably have instances of interpersonal conflict. Having career counselors available to intervene and support these conflicts helps office spaces become more functional.
5 Benefits of Counseling for Depression and Anxiety
Studies have shown that decreased depressive and anxiety symptoms are evident in effective counseling. The overarching decrease in symptoms is the main reason one would initially venture into a counseling environment. The correlation between the reduction of symptoms and improvement in other areas is important to note.
Counseling can improve communication of negative emotions, which can help to elevate mood. Enabling someone to explore their negative emotions and release them in a safe environment allows them to express things that may not be well received by someone who is not a licensed practitioner. Many patients find that once they begin the exploration, more is uncovered about the presenting depression or anxiety.
Coping skills are a long term benefit of entering into counseling for depression and anxiety. Developing a plan to combat the overwhelming negative emotions that accompany these disorders offers many patients a way to continue symptom decreases. Some patients have reported that they can decrease medication with the improvement of coping skills.
Improvement in interpersonal relationships is correlated with a reduction of symptoms of depression and anxiety through counseling. Effective counselors can help their clients improve boundary setting and other forms of self-expression. These improvements lead to more growth in other areas of personal development.
When offered interventions in positive psychology, improved wellbeing can also be a benefit of counseling for depression and anxiety. By adding gratitude and celebrations of what is working well, clients can increase naturally occurring levels of dopamine and serotonin. Interventions that include other people can increase levels of oxytocin as well.
There are many different treatment modalities in counseling for depression and anxiety. As treatment will differ for each person, some have benefitted by reducing symptoms enough to require counseling no longer. Sometimes elimination of symptoms is even possible.
A Look at the Benefits of HIV and Health Counseling
A distressing diagnosis can easily lead to the development of psychological difficulties. Patients facing HIV and other life-threatening diagnoses can benefit from a counselor guiding them through the trials of what they’re facing. Health counseling is a gateway to effective treatment.
Through counseling, a patient may find it easier to navigate the medical care needs that follow a diagnosis. A problematic diagnosis will present new medical needs that may be unfamiliar and frightening. A counselor familiar with the medical needs a patient is facing can offer comfort and guidance in a painful situation.
Difficult conversations about sexual behavior can take place more readily with a skilled HIV counselor. The community will also benefit from a patient notifying previous sexual partners so that they may receive treatment as well. There are also legal ramifications facing someone newly diagnosed.
Improvements in overall health and wellbeing can be a benefit of counseling as well. Health counselors are well versed in healthy habits and nutrition that can assist in improving the wellness of patients. They can also lead patients through medication instruction and interaction.
A Take-Home Message
Debates around the empirical evidence and benefits of counseling have been prevalent for years. Many meta-analyses have proven that benefits in counseling are abundant and weave into the wellbeing of recipients. Most people enjoying the benefits of counseling also see improvement in many areas of their lives.
Mental health should receive the same amount of effort as physical health. Reducing the stigma around mental health is an area where improvement in the field can be made. All humans have feelings; therefore, all humans should have someone to help them process those emotions skillfully.
Accessibility to mental health services is severely lacking in many challenged socio-economic areas. Drastic improvement needs to be forged in these areas so that more people can realize the benefits of counseling.
- Benson, L. A., McGinn, M. M., & Christensen, A. (2012). Common principles of couple therapy. Behavior Therapy, 43(1), 25-35. doi:10.1016/j.beth.2010.12.00
- Brown, J. (1987). A review of meta-analyses conducted on psychotherapy outcome research. Clinical Psychology Review, 7(1), 1–23. doi:10.1016/0272-7358(87)90002-x
- Burlingame, G. M., Fuhriman, A., & Mosier, J. (2003). The differential effectiveness of group psychotherapy: A meta-analytic perspective. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 7(1), 3–12. doi:10.1037/1089-26126.96.36.199
- Cohen, G. E., & Kerr, B. A. (1999). Computer-Mediated Counseling. Computers in Human Services, 15(4), 13–26. doi:10.1300/j407v15n04_02
- Cottrell, D. J., Wright-Hughes, A., Collinson, M., Boston, P., Eisler, I., Fortune, S., … Farrin, A. J. (2018). Effectiveness of systemic family therapy versus treatment as usual for young people after self-harm: a pragmatic, phase 3, multicentre, randomized controlled trial. The Lancet Psychiatry, 5(3), 203–216. doi:10.1016/s2215-0366(18)30058-0
- Ehde, D. M., Dillworth, T. M., & Turner, J. A. (2014). Cognitive-behavioral therapy for individuals with chronic pain: Efficacy, innovations, and directions for research. American Psychologist, 69(2), 153–166. doi:10.1037/a0035747
- Fals-Stewart, W., Yates, B. T., & Klostermann, K. (2005). Assessing the Costs, Benefits, Cost-Benefit Ratio, and Cost-Effectiveness of Marital and Family Treatments: Why We Should and How We Can. Journal of Family Psychology, 19(1), 28–39. doi:10.1037/0893-3188.8.131.52
- Goodman-Scott, E., Sink, C. A., Cholewa, B. E., & Burgess, M. (2018). An Ecological View of School Counselor Ratios and Student Academic Outcomes: A National Investigation. Journal of Counseling & Development, 96(4), 388–398. doi:10.1002/jcad.12221
- Harvey, A. G., & Gumport, N. B. (2015). Evidence-based psychological treatments for mental disorders: Modifiable barriers to access and possible solutions. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 68, 1–12. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2015.02.004
- Integrating Gender into HIV/AIDS Programmes in the Health Sector: Tool to Improve Responsiveness to Women’s Needs. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2009. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK143049/
- Robertson, P. J. (2013). The well-being outcomes of career guidance. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 41(3), 254–266. doi:10.1080/03069885.2013.773959
- Roy-Byrne, P. P., Joesch, J. M., Wang, P. S., & Kessler, R. C. (2009). Low Socioeconomic Status and Mental Health Care Use Among Respondents With Anxiety and Depression in the NCS-R. Psychiatric Services, 60(9), 1190–1197. doi:10.1176/ps.2009.60.9.1190
- Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410–421. doi:10.1037/0003-066x.60.5.410
- Shedler, J. (2010). The efficacy of psychodynamic psychotherapy. American Psychologist, 65(2), 98–109. doi:10.1037/a0018378
- Thimm, J. C., & Antonsen, L. (2014). Effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral group therapy for depression in routine practice. BMC Psychiatry, 14(1). doi:10.1186/s12888-014-0292-x
- Wampold, B. E., Lichtenberg, J. W., & Waehler, C. A. (2002). Principles of Empirically Supported Interventions in Counseling Psychology. The Counseling Psychologist, 30(2), 197–217. doi:10.1177/0011000002302001