Counseling is known as one of the greatest helping professions on Earth, yet many people remain perplexed about its true meaning, purpose, and intention.
Most likely, the practice of offering counsel to others has always occurred in some fashion within human society.
We are relational beings, experience a range of emotions, and have an innate desire to avoid suffering and live abundant lives.
Today, one in five American adults has a mental health condition, and research shows that these conditions can be effectively treated (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018).
Not only can counseling treat mental health conditions, it can also help individuals, groups, organizations, and society optimize wellbeing. In this article, we further discuss the importance of counseling, with a list of scientifically researched benefits.
Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive CBT Exercises for free. These science-based exercises will provide you with a detailed insight into positive Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and give you the tools to apply it in your therapy or coaching.
This Article Contains:
- Why Is Counseling Important? 5 Proven Benefits of Counseling
- 3 Reasons Why Career Counseling Is Important
- 4 Benefits of Group Counseling
- Counseling for Students: 3 Empirical Benefits
- Why Is Family & Couples Counseling Important?
- The Benefits of Counseling in Society at Large
- PositivePsychology.com’s Helpful Resources
- A Take-Home Message
Why Is Counseling Important? 5 Proven Benefits of Counseling
The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.
M. Scott Peck
Millions of people have experienced the benefits of counseling. Counseling is a specific mental health discipline that includes aspects of guidance and psychotherapy (Erford, 2018). It focuses on a wellness model aimed at improving the quality of life and involves both the counselor and client in collaboration.
Outcome research measures the effectiveness of counseling interventions and responses to the therapeutic process (Erford, 2018). Using theory and empirically validated research keeps counselors and the profession accountable and ethical. While experiencing the benefits of counseling is the goal, outcome research allows us to find best practices, evaluate techniques, and optimize counseling approaches for clients.
Psychotherapy and other counseling techniques help individuals explore moods and behaviors, provide fresh perspectives, and offer a better understanding of emotions.
Counseling can help improve mood, treat mental illness, reduce medical costs, improve communication and relationships, and promote self-esteem and resilience.
Here is a list of the benefits of counseling based on research.
1. Scientific evidence for treating mental illness and improving mood
Counselors use a myriad of techniques and approaches to improve the mental health and wellbeing of clients.
Gingerich and Eisengart (2000) reviewed 15 outcome studies regarding the efficacy of solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT) for depression, anxiety, parenting skills, psychosocial adjustment, antisocial behaviors, alcohol use, and family conflict. Five of the studies were tightly controlled, and all of them found SFBT to be significantly better than no treatment.
Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions in the world. It is a chronic condition that hinders quality of life, involves sleep problems, appetite changes, and feelings of guilt or apathy (Lambert, 2004). The three types of depression that can be effectively treated with counseling include:
- Major depressive disorder
- Seasonal affective disorder
A systematic review of 30 studies examining the effectiveness of counseling/therapy treatments found that psychological treatment of depression was more effective than traditional treatment (pharmacological) or no treatment at all (Linde et al., 2015).
All studies in the meta-analysis were randomized, controlled trials of depressed adults in primary care. The research found that Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) was particularly effective in both short- and long-term treatment trials.
Anxiety is another common mental health condition affecting approximately 19% of the U.S. population (National Institute of Health, 2017). Clinical anxiety is chronic and often debilitating for people.
The three main types of anxiety are:
- Generalized anxiety
- Social anxiety
Many forms of counseling have been found to treat anxiety effectively, relieve uncomfortable symptoms, and adjust maladaptive behaviors.
While CBT consistently demonstrates the most effective results at relieving symptoms of anxiety, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, mindfulness, and talk therapy have also been used as counseling techniques to effectively reduce anxiety (Foa & Kozak, 1985).
2. Another form of anxiety: Counseling for OCD
Several theories came forward in the 1940s that explained the fear/anxiety and avoidance of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), where the fear of a stimulus is avoided to reduce anxiety, and the behavioral avoidance results in repeated compulsive rituals (Jacofsky, Santos, Khemlani-Patel, & Neziroglu, n.d.).
Once OCD was seen as an anxiety disorder, early behavioral therapy such as aversion therapy and exposure therapy were developed to treat the condition.
Today, there are over 40 years of research to support a consensus among researchers and counseling professionals that CBT is an effective treatment for OCD. Exposure-based treatments have the largest pool of evidence to support efficacy, and about 80% of patients respond to some form of therapy for OCD (Frances, Docherty, & Kahn, 1997).
3. Counseling can reduce medical costs
There is a direct link between physical and mental health. Often, when individuals treat underlying mental health conditions or receive counseling to help regulate emotions and improve mood, physical health improves as well.
One study found that psychological treatment among individuals with chronic physical conditions in small group settings decreased medical care costs by $10 for every $1 spent (Lorig et al., 1999). This shows the significant physical and financial benefits counseling can offer.
4. Counseling can provide education and teach skills
Psychoeducation is the process of explaining mental health conditions, diagnoses, services, and treatment options.
Many people who come to counseling know that they are suffering but understand nothing about the underlying causes, specific conditions, or how certain techniques can address presenting problems.
Psychoeducation can help normalize problems, decrease stigma, and increase compliance with treatment plans. It is a large component of many trauma treatments. Among individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia, psychoeducation was found to reduce rehospitalization rates and reduce the number of days a patient was hospitalized (Bauml, Frobose, Kraemer, Rentrop, & Pitchel-Waltz, 2006).
Various techniques are used in counseling to teach and practice skills that provide both short- and long-term relief. Clients learn general skills like self-awareness, active listening, and communication skills as well as specific mindfulness and behavior change skills.
As an example, CBT skills teach clients how to identify and reframe faulty thought patterns that lead to distressing emotions. This Positive Replacement Thoughts worksheet is a typical example. Learning and practicing these skills in counseling sessions can change long-term patterns of negative thoughts and behaviors.
5. Counseling can promote factors of resilience
Resilience factors include (Johnston et al., 2015):
- Having meaning or purpose in life
- Experiencing positive emotions
- Active coping
- Cognitive flexibility
While there are specific resilience-training programs focused on improving these factors, many forms of counseling increase these aspects of resilience too.
Through discussion, role-play, practical exercises, and homework, various counseling procedures offer a basis for teaching and strengthening resilience. For example, “stress inoculation therapy” designed for anxiety has also improved measures of resilience (Meichenbaum, 2007).
Stress inoculation therapy is a form of positive CBT that can teach individuals more adaptive patterns of thinking and emotional and behavioral responses. Most clients come to counseling looking for help with one specific area of their life, but they can leave therapy with new insights and tools that provide meaning, positive emotions, coping skills, and a healthier sense of self-worth.
3 Reasons Why Career Counseling Is Important
Career counseling is important for employees, employers, and organizations.
According to the National Career Development Association, a career counselor is someone educated, trained, and experienced in helping employees overcome career obstacles and achieve their highest career aspirations through assessment, performance improvement, career transition, career planning, workplace, and work–life balance situations (Ginac, 2004).
Here’s why career counseling is important:
1. Career counselors can help employees find potential employers
Career counseling can help individuals create specific career paths based on their knowledge, skills, abilities, and experience. Counselors explore options and prepare employees for job searches, help with resume preparation, practice interviewing, and suggest ways to build networking experience.
Most career counselors can identify alternative career options for people in transition to capitalize on their skills, knowledge, and profiles.
2. Career counseling maximizes person–job–organization fit
Career counseling includes the administration of assessments and inventories to assess the work values, interests, skills, and competencies of potential employees.
Career counseling services may help employers and organizations find the best candidates for the job by helping recruiters or hiring managers identify individuals that can fill specific needs.
3. Career counseling helps organizations and employers
People often think that career counselors are only helpful for individuals seeking employment.
However, the field of career counseling helps provide unbiased, objective interventions, mediation, and facilitation for people experiencing job stress and for organizations that may be transitioning through mergers or downsizing.
They can also create career development plans to help employees and managers grow, using executive coaching, and learn within an organization, which helps both the employer and employee.
4 Benefits of Group Counseling
Group counseling is a great option for therapy and can offer unique benefits that individual counseling may not be able to provide.
Group counseling is just as effective as individual treatment for most conditions, as long as the group is specific to the focus of treatment (Erford, 2018).
Group therapy involves one or more leaders (trained counselors, therapists, or psychologists) that lead/guide a group of 5–15 clients. Typically, groups will meet for an hour or two on a weekly basis.
Groups may be open, meaning new members can join any time, or closed, meaning members begin and end for a specific period.
The benefits of group counseling include the following:
1. Shared struggles
Group counseling provides a safe atmosphere where individuals with similar struggles can feel accepted and understood.
It is one thing to be accepted and understood by a counselor in individual therapy, but it is another to discuss struggles with members who have had the same experience.
This allows the experience (such as loss of a loved one, surviving a sexual assault, or having abusive parents) to become normalized to some degree and opens up a new avenue for healing.
The regular meetings of group counseling offer an opportunity for accountability.
A good example of this is Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, which provide a safe and confidential place for individuals who struggle in their efforts to stay sober and abstain from alcohol and drugs.
3. Education and self-evaluation
Groups can teach individuals about themselves. Each member is holding up a mirror to others in the group, which provides a way to access self-reflection and self-awareness within the context of a shared experience.
A study examining group therapy among college students found that after only four sessions, members reported less emotional distress and increased life satisfaction and self-esteem (Leaf, Krauss, Dantzig, & Alington, 1992).
While this study used Rational-Emotive Therapy as a technique, many of the positive benefits were attributed to a greater understanding of self.
Members of the group can learn more about the specific topic of the group and how their personal experience with it is interpreted. Additionally, groups can teach unique social skills as members practice interacting, listening, and reflecting.
4. Cost effective
Because the cost of therapy is shared between members in a group setting, the price per session is generally cheaper. For example, without insurance, counseling sessions in the U.S. in 2020 ranged between $100 and $200 for individuals, but a group counseling session averaged $50 per person (Psychology Today, n.d.).
Individuals may be able to receive the same mental and emotional benefits from counseling in a group and reduce the financial strain that is often associated with therapy.
Counseling for Students: 3 Empirical Benefits
Approximately 2.7 million students suffer from severe emotional or behavioral problems that interfere with peer relationships and academics (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018).
Approximately 20% of school-aged children have a diagnosable condition needing intervention ranging from attention problems, depression, and suicidal tendencies (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018).
School counselors are equipped to address these needs, and the benefits of counseling in educational settings go far beyond treating mental health problems.
1. Improved learning outcomes and student behavior
Professional school counselors are often employed by schools to provide direct and indirect services.
These professional counselors offer a range of services, including consultation and collaboration with teachers and administrators, educational planning services, developmental classroom guidance, peer mediation, and comprehensive school counseling programs.
The effectiveness of this broad range of services has been empirically studied and has consistently shown higher achievement scores, improved attendance, lower rates of dropouts, and fewer delinquent behaviors among students (Prout & Prout, 1998).
2. Developmental guidance for social and emotional skills
Counselors have also effectively used activities to promote healthy social and emotional development taught through a variety of methods.
These involve activities such as music, drawing, stories, games, worksheets, role-play, puppets, and videos.
Using these methods in empirically validated ways has showed efficacy in addressing personal and emotional issues, improving school attitude and behavior, and developing self-management skills (Ginac, 2004).
3. Responsive services for personal situations
Responsive services shift immediate attention and intervention to respond to problems that arise in the school setting but stem from personal situations.
Individual and group counseling has been found to be effective at teaching students to relax and treating a wide range of school-based behaviors, such as discipline problems, adjustment to divorce, and learning disabilities (Thompson & Littrell, 1998).
Why Is Family & Couples Counseling Important?
The family is the first and primary place of development, learning, and attachment for individuals as they enter the world. Family therapy and couples counseling are important to help both the family unit and individual members within it.
Family and couples counseling can help with:
- Communication problems
- Stressful life events such as divorce, job loss, career transition, moves, loss of a family member
- Mental health issues including substance abuse
- Traumatic events such as high-jacking, school shootings, terrorism
- Psychoeducation for parents, couples, and children
- Academic and behavior problems
- Setting goals, making future plans, and solving problems
Families and couples who seek counseling can improve communication, decrease the likelihood of divorce, and strengthen child–parent bonds in as few as eight sessions (Beels, 2002).
Counseling can address major issues within relationships and help individuals within a family system by working with multiple members at once. Creating strong relationships and families is important not only for the specific clients involved, but also for the community and society at large.
The Benefits of Counseling in Society at Large
The impact that counselors have on individuals does not occur in a vacuum.
Counseling settings include mental health agencies, hospitals, shelters, prisons, and colleges.
As counseling improves the mental health, resilience, educational, and work outcomes of individuals, general society reaps the benefits through economic and physical wellbeing and relational improvement.
Adverse childhood experiences: An example
One example of how counseling can benefit communities and society at large is through research on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). ACEs have systematically been found to impact future physical, mental, emotional, and economic health outcomes (Marie-Mitchell & Kostolansky, 2019).
ACEs include abuse, neglect, witnessing violence, having a caregiver or loved one experience prolonged illness, having a loved one die by suicide, being separated from biological parents, being in the foster care system, and having a loved one engage in substance or alcohol abuse.
Original ACE research was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2017) between 1995 and 1997 and concluded that those who had experienced four or more ACEs were more likely to have increased health risks for alcoholism, drug abuse, depression and suicide, poor physical health, sexually transmitted diseases, obesity, and smoking.
Evidence shows that counseling individuals and families helps provide safe, stable, nurturing relationships that can prevent ACEs (Merrick et al., 2019). Public health efforts to prevent and immediately address situations that lead to ACEs can help improve community and societal health. Early intervention trauma treatment can build more resilient and flourishing communities.
PositivePsychology.com’s Helpful Resources
Since much of the empirical evidence supporting the effectiveness of counseling involves techniques of CBT, this Functional Analysis worksheet can help clients and therapists identify triggers, behaviors, and consequences that lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
This resource on the Antifragile Mind teaches clients and counselors the difference between anti-fragility and resilience. It offers a path to learn a fresh perspective on situations and events that were once labeled “bad” or “unwanted.”
Mindfulness is another useful tool counselors use to reach outcome goals in therapy. This simple guide to mindfulness provides practical steps to teach and apply the skill.
The Leaving the Comfort Zone resource teaches individuals about the growth mindset. It asks us to move beyond the fear and anxiety that so many get stuck in and into a place of learning and success. It includes visual aids and practical application.
A Take-Home Message
Counselors use a variety of empirically validated techniques to improve mood, mental health, relationships, careers, student behavior, and education.
They are found in a variety of settings in all parts of the world. From guidance to education, assessment and collaboration, diagnosing and treating, entering into the counseling arena is full of possibility and rewards.
There is a wealth of valid, scientifically backed research to support the effectiveness of counseling in a wide range of areas. From treating mental health conditions to helping entire communities thrive, counseling offers hope, healing, and health to anyone willing to try it.
We hope you enjoyed reading this article. For more information, don’t forget to download our three Positive CBT Exercises for free.
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