Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Defining Counselling Psychology: What Do All the Words Mean?

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Defining Counselling Psychology: What Do All the Words Mean?

Article excerpt

Counselling psychology is officially defined in New Zealand in the following terms:

"Counselling Psychologist" --Counselling Psychologists apply psychological knowledge and theory derived from research to the area of client empowerment and enhancement, to assist children, young persons, adults and their families with personal, social, educational, and vocational functioning by using psychological assessments and interventions, and preventative approaches that acknowledge ecological, developmental and phenomenological dimensions. (New Zealand Psychologists Board, 2013)

This definition is essentially the same as the definition of the discipline that was originally written for the Institute of Counselling Psychology (Cooper, Frewin, Gardiner, O'Connell, & Stanley, 2002); and it is identical to the definition that was subsequently put out for consultation (Stanley, Gibson, & Manthei, 2005), and that was ultimately contained in the application that was submitted to the New Zealand Psychologists Board for a vocational scope of practice for counselling psychology (Stanley, 2005). On the website of the Psychologists Board there are also definitions for clinical psychology and for educational psychology, and probably in the future there will be definitions for other psychological specialties. Each of the existing definitions has a common structure and common components. All three specialties "apply psychological knowledge and theory derived from research", "to assist children, young persons, adults and their families", through assessment and interventions. The definition for counselling psychology is different from the other two definitions in its explicit acknowledgement of phenomenology, its emphasis on empowerment and enhancement, its reference to a breadth of typical functioning (and specifically, vocational concerns), and in the recognition that problems of living can and should be prevented. The definition is also special because of what it does not contain. For instance, there is no mention of mental health or diagnosis as is found in the clinical psychology scope.

What the words say in the definition of counselling psychology is that the practitioners of this discipline give a special priority to understanding the client's world, and to assisting the client to attain for him or herself increased functioning and opportunities. This fundamental person-centred commitment has some conditions, however, as counselling psychologists acknowledge the impact of developmental state and of environmental influences on human behaviour and autonomy. The consequence of this acknowledgement is the preventative emphasis of the discipline, as there is an understanding that circumstances that have adverse effects can be changed. Counselling psychology is a specialty area of psychology and the methods that are used to facilitate client change will typically be supported by research.

What follows is an analysis of the implications, and the challenges, of the dimensions and commitments of the officially accepted definition of counselling psychology. As a corollary, it is also argued that counselling psychology's composite view of the client and of the helping process is more widely applicable to the delivery of human services in this country.


The commitment to fully embrace and understand the client's environment is probably counselling psychology's pivotal resolution and task. Principally as a consequence of work by Bronfenbrenner, and specifically the publication in 1979 of Human Ecology: Experiments by Nature and Design, psychologists have come to understand that the circumstances that surround children, young persons, adults and their families are multilayered, multidimensional, interactive, and changing. People exist in many settings; they have physical, cognitive, socioemotional, aesthetic and spiritual aspects; and they engage with other people in a stream of microsocial events that shape who they are, and that shape the other individuals who surround them. …

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