Counseling and Psychotherapy in Italy: A Profession in Constant Change

By Gemignani, Marco; Giliberto, Massimo | Journal of Mental Health Counseling, April 2005 | Go to article overview

Counseling and Psychotherapy in Italy: A Profession in Constant Change


Gemignani, Marco, Giliberto, Massimo, Journal of Mental Health Counseling


This article illustrates the state of the art for mental health counseling in Italy through a historic and postmodern perspective. The context of Italian mental health counseling is complex and full of new and old premises, events, and arguments. On the one side, the way counseling has developed and is perceived in Italy results from the intersection of old cultural legacies, such as Christianity, and new challenges, such as a multicultural and multiethnic society. On the other side, the development of mental health counseling in Italy is the result of the encounter between the pragmatic, optimist U.S. counseling and the phenomenological, hermeneutic traditions of European schools. The article ends with an exploration of the potentials that may arise from an ongoing communication between US. and Italian mental health professionals.

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It is an arduous endeavor to address the topic of counseling and psychotherapy in Italy in a few pages. The subject is, in fact, so vast and full of historical, cultural, and theoretical facets that every depiction will always end up being a rough reduction. Having to come to a decision on what to write about, we chose to focus on three main areas that will help mental health counselors understand the state of the art of mental health counseling and psychotherapy in Italy. The first of these areas is the historical origins of counseling in Italy. The second section examines the complexity of the professional training and legislative system. Finally, the last part addresses the influence of central cultural values and institutions, namely the Roman Catholic Church, in pressing issues related to gender equality, cultural diversity, and minority populations. We purposely wanted to avoid the use of banal stereotypes about Italian culture or cultures, such as supposed attempts of reifying cultural differences between North and South Italy (Gemignani, 2003).

A BRIEF HISTORY OF MENTAL HEALTH COUNSELING IN ITALY

Introduction

Regardless of the field of knowledge, when presenting a categorization of things, we have to carefully consider our assumptions and intentions on this process. In fact, no classification is neutral or impartial, especially when history is considered. If we want, even briefly, to illustrate the historical facts of mental health counseling, we must address our view of that discipline (Cimino & Dazzi, 2003). In fact, placing a boundary between what falls into and what remains outside the definition of mental health counseling is often a subjective and political act (Cushman, 1995).

Interestingly enough, the word counseling does not find a precise correspondent in the Italian language (Vitelli, Galiani, Amodeo, Adamo, & Valerio, 1998). Although often used as a synonym for psychotherapy in mental health contexts, counseling has a broader meaning that includes a top-down, instead of collaborative, process of advising, which corresponds to the Italian word consulenza. As in the Anglo-Saxon world, the word counseling also is used outside therapeutic settings, such as in vocational, school, organizational, legal, or spiritual counseling. In this article, however, we focus on the most common interpretation of counseling as related to and partially synonymous with psychotherapy. In addition, we will consider mental health counseling or psychotherapy as those practices and theories that are connected to a specific professionalism regarding psychological issue or discomfort and its treatment, which prevailingly occurs through the therapeutic relationship between the client/patient and the counselor. Mental health counseling operates within historical and traditional narratives or grand narratives (Lyotard, 1979) that culturally define the extent of its possibility and agency.

The Origins

Having established a definition of psychotherapy or mental health counseling, we can positively say that in Italy the origins of psychotherapy correspond to the beginning of the psychoanalytic movement. …

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