Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Counselling Psychology in a Canadian Context: Definition and Description

Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Counselling Psychology in a Canadian Context: Definition and Description

Article excerpt

Counselling psychology, established in 1987 as a specialization wiutin Canadian professional psychology, has developed a distinctive identity and specific underlying approach to training and practice. To date, the field in Canada has evolved without benefit of a formal definition of the specialization. Over three years, a task force charged with development of a definition of Canadian counselling psychology engaged in a broad survey of extant literature and member consultation, and proposed a definition that was adopted by the Board of Directors of the Canadian Psychological Association in June 2009. The present work discusses the process that informed development of the definition, provides a description of the characteristics of a Canadian counselling psychology approach to research and practice, and enumerates challenges to the continued development of the specialization.

Keywords: counselling psychology, professional identity, definition of specialization in psychology

In 1983, following discussions on forming a section of counselling psychology within the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA), Friesen used seven criteria to evaluate whether or not counselling psychology deserved status as its own specialization (Friesen, 1983). The criteria comprised (a) a distinct subject matter, (b) an adequate body of theory and research, (c) welldeveloped research methods, (d) a community of scholars, (e) the presence of supporting organisations/services, (f) widespread utility, and (g) a belief that counselling psychology exists. Three years later, counselling psychology became its own section of the CPA (Lalande, 2004). Evidence for each of these criteria has grown over time, and, in November 2009, the CPA Board of Directors adopted a formal definition of counselling psychology as a distinct specialization within applied psychology.

The purpose of this article is to examine the question, what is counselling psychology as conceptualised and practiced in Canada? We provide a definition1 grounded in Canadian history and traditions and describe contemporary counselling psychology in Canada. In doing so, we follow the path set by the Clinical Psychology and Industrial-Organisational Psychology sections, which published similar descriptive articles in Canadian Psychology following section endorsement and CPA board approval of their definitions (Kline, 1996; Valus & Howes, 1996). We do not claim to fully represent all possible perspectives on counselling psychology in Canada; however, we believe that this article represents a contemporary and widely endorsed perspective.

Despite its well-established presence and 50-year history in the United States (Munley, Duncan, & McDonnell, 2004), there has been considerable confusion about the nature of counselling psychology and the characteristics of counselling psychologists in Canada. This confusion persists despite the fact that (a) counselling psychology is recognised as a distinct area of practice by most provincial and territorial boards of psychology, (b) the Counselling Psychology section of CPA has existed since 1986 (Lalande, 2004), and (c) membership in the section has nearly tripled over the past five years.2 The historical absence of a widely adopted definition of counselling psychology in Canada has contributed to the confusion. The situation has been further exacerbated by counselling psychology's overlap with several other professional specialities, particularly clinical psychology and mental health counselling.

Previous descriptions of the discipline published in Canadian journals have been centred on American literature and events (e.g., Friesen, 1983; Lecomte, Dumont, & Zingle, 1981; SinacoreGuinn, 1995) and "seem to represent a 'Canadian perspective' largely because the writers are Canadians, not because they focus on the state of affairs in Canada" (Hiebert & Uhlemann, 1993, p. 307). This is problematic because the evolution of counselling psychology in Canada occurs in a background of important national and cultural contexts that are not found in the United States (Boucher, 2004; Young & Nicol, 2007). …

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