Wednesday, June 30, 2010


The counseling field, though relatively new, has a rich
history. It is important to note the influence of the
broad field of psychology, and though much of the
history of each is unique, counseling and psychology
are branches of the same mental health tree. The counseling
field developed from the guidance movement
in response to recognition of a need for mental health
and guidance counseling for individuals facing developmental
milestones. This entry provides a historical
context for the development of the counseling profession,
the key contributors to the profession, and the
development of organizations providing professional
context and accountability. An overview focuses on
three threads: societal changes that influenced the profession
in response to human need, changes in psychological
theory, and educational reform.

Early 20th Century
The counseling profession developed in many ways
from responses to changes in society. In the early 20th
century, when counseling was first emerging, humanistic
reform, with an increased emphasis on the value of
all human beings, was also emerging. Human qualities
such as choice, creativity, self-realization, and ultimately
the value of all people became the focus of
human change and intervention. During this period of
humanistic reform, society saw changes in conditions
of prisons, asylums, and factories based on the humanistic
principles noted above. The focus was toward
treating all clients, regardless of circumstance, in a way
that regarded and supported their potential for success
and remediation. Concurrently, the school system was
taking a lead in this transformation through its focus on
humanistic education, including student-centered
learning with the teacher as a facilitator, development
of the self-actualized student, and student cooperation.
Humanistic reform led to a new way of viewing the
individual and the facilitation of human well-being.
Also during this time, America was in the midst of
the Industrial Revolution, a time of great change
resulting in a shift in human need. One of the primary
consequences of the dramatic changes occurring in
American society was the movement from farms to the
city. As a great influx of people moved to cities to
work in industry and in the factories, people were
severely overcrowded, which ultimately resulted in an
increase in disease and the beginning of slums and
poverty. An additional consequence was the disorganization
of the family. Before the industrial revolution,
families lived close to one another, worked together,
and relied on one another for support. Once families
moved to the cities to work in the factories, the family
structure changed, and the human population became
increasingly isolated. These changes created new
needs for the individual and the family.
In education, this time period saw the ongoing
development of progressive education led by John
Dewey. The focus of this movement was child learning
through real-world experience and an emphasis on
schools reflecting the overall life of society. Also part
of this movement was respect for the child and the
implementation of a curriculum that allowed for
children to develop personal interests; this curriculum
included agricultural education, industrial education,
and social education with an emphasis on the acculturation
of immigrants. Progressive education coupled
with the humanistic movement shed light on the growing
need to attend to the overall well-being of
children, beyond the walls of the school. Another key
figure in the change of American schools was Horace
Mann, who is often referred to as the father of
American education. Mann believed in the development
of a system of common schools: universal, free,
and nonsectarian education.
These early forerunners (Dewey and Mann) were
focused on training and advice, in particular education
and vocational guidance, and on interpersonal
relationships. To this point in history, the helping
professions were dominated by mental health giants
such as Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler, and Viktor
Frankl. Freud’s psychoanalytic theory had, and continues
to have, a profound impact on counseling and
The early 1900s saw the beginning of political support
for compulsory education. Compulsory education
allowed for education for all and is based on the fundamental
principle that education is a basic human
right. Specifically, compulsory education requires by
law that children receive education and that government
provide education to all. Educating children
decreased the number of children in the labor force
and was a primary force in the change of society.
During this time in France, Alfred Binet was part
of a commission concerned with retardation in school
children. Binet rejected some original tenets of intelligence
testing and worked on the development of
intelligence scales. With the changes in the educational
system driven by education reform in a response
to urbanization and industrialization, schools
needed assistance to handle diverse learning capabilities.
Binet developed a scale to differentiate children
struggling to learn from those more capable of school
demands. Binet collaborated with Theodore Simon, a
physician, and together they developed a measure of
intelligence. The primary intent of this 1905 intelligence
scale was to discriminate between slightly
“retarded” children and the normal school population.
Three key figures influenced the early roots of the
counseling profession, specifically Jesse B. Davis,
Frank Parsons, and Clifford Beers. Afront-runner in the
response to educational reform, Jesse B. Davis, was the
first person to develop public school counseling and
guidance programs. As a principal, Davis required his
students to write about their vocational interests on a
weekly basis. Davis believed that character development
was central to preventing behavioral problems
and to creating good relationships with other students.
Davis was strongly influenced by Mann and Dewey
and believed that if children were given proper guidance,
the challenges of an increasingly industrialized
society could be met. Therefore he advocated for the
infusion of vocational development into traditional curriculum.
The goals of the vocational focus were to
assist students in understanding their character and in
becoming socially responsible workers.
Parsons, often called the father of guidance,
founded Boston’s Vocational Bureau in 1908. Parsons
believed the more people understood themselves and
the career choices available to them—specifically
their aptitudes, interests, and resources, the more
capable they were of making informed and reasonable
occupational choices. In 1909 Parsons wrote
Choosing a Vocation, a highly influential book that
called for the designation of school teachers as vocational
counselors. Other schools took Parsons’s example
and began implementing their own vocational
guidance programs.
During this same time Beers, author of A Mind That
Found Itself in 1908, was the impetus for the mental
health movement. This book was an autobiographical
account of his experience with institutionalization following
a suicide attempt. After discovering the condition
of these facilities and finding the treatment of
mental illness ineffective, Beers committed himself to
changing the treatment of the mentally ill. In this book,
he exposed the conditions of mental health facilities
and eventually prompted national reform in the treatment
of persons with mental illness. His work was the
forerunner of mental health counseling.
The above professional forces were working
toward the development of the counseling profession.
Early changes across three professional movements—
guidance counseling and educational reform, mental
health reform, and the psychometrics movement—
came together to create the foundation of the counseling
As the 1900s progressed, several events occurred
that impacted the profession. The first event was
the founding of the National Vocational Guidance
Association (NVGA) in 1913. In 1915, the NVGA
published the first National Vocational Guidance
Bulletin, and by 1921 it was publishing it regularly. In
1924, the title was changed to the National Vocational
Guidance Magazine. The publication evolved over the
years to eventually become the Journal of Counseling
and Development, the publication’s current title. The
development of the NCGA signified the first effort
toward unifying those invested in the pursuit of scholarly
information related to vocational guidance. Also
during this time, the Smith Hughes Act of 1917 was
passed by Congress. This act provided funding for
public schools to provide vocational guidance programs
and allowed schools to separate their vocational
guidance programs from standard curriculum courses.
The beginning of World War I brought many new
challenges to the United States and other countries
involved in the war. The U.S. Army, in response to
one of their challenges, commissioned the development
of the Army Alpha and Army Beta intelligence
tests. During this time, counseling became increasingly
recognized as the army implemented these
instruments to assist in selection, placement, and
training practices for army personnel. After the war
ended, these instruments were used with the civilian
population; this marked the beginning of the psychometrics
movement, one of the professional origins on
which the counseling field was largely based.

The 1920s
The 1920s saw the emergence of an even greater
influence of school guidance. During this time, the
profession was becoming increasingly focused, and
vocational guidance became the primary focus of
training programs, starting with Harvard University.
The major influences on the profession at this time
were theories of education and governmental support
of guidance service for war veterans. Recognition of
the importance of vocational assessment and guidance
continued to pull the counseling field into more solid
development and recognition of the need for increased
professionalism. In response to this pull came the
development of the first standards for occupational
inventories and guidelines for their development and
evaluation, providing further impetus for psychometric
evaluation. The primary orientation during this
time was the medical model and testing.
With the standards for development and evaluation
of psychological instruments came an increase in
the publication of these materials, most notably the
Strong Vocational Interest Blank (SVIB), created and
published by Edward Strong in 1927 (now called the
Strong Interest Inventory). The Strong Vocational
Interest Blank was developed based on the assumption
that patterns of individual interests indicate likely
occupational choices. The inventory indicated the
occupations in which a person will be more likely to
be satisfied and perhaps even continue with long-term

The 1930s
The Great Depression in the 1930s had a profound
influence on both researchers and practitioners; specifically
there was an increased need for helping processes
and counseling for employment placement. During this
time period, E. G. Williamson developed the trait-factor
theory based on modifications of Parson’s theory.
Williamson’s theory was direct and focused on the
counselor’s direction, primarily through teaching and
mentoring. The focus of trait-factor counseling was to
define behavior by traits such as aptitudes, achievements,
personalities, and interest, and based on these
and a variety of factors, statistically evaluate them to
assist an individual toward becoming an effective and
successful individual. Williamson’s theory was most
popular in the 1930s and 1940s when it was used by the
military in World War II for selection.
In addition to the influence of the economic climate,
the greatest influence on the counseling profession
during this time may have been the government’s
interest in supporting guidance and counseling efforts.
In 1936, the George-Deen Act was approved by
Congress; this act allowed for the creation of the
Vocational Education Division of the U.S. Office of
Education. An extension of this act was the introduction
of the position of state supervisor of guidance in
state departments of education. The George-Deen Act
represented the first time funds were directly allocated
for vocational guidance counseling, and guidance
counselors saw an increase in support for their work.
Also during this time, the U.S. government instituted
the U.S. Employment Service, which published the
first edition of the Dictionary of Occupational Titles
(DOT). The DOT was the first publication to define
jobs of all types. The DOT continues to serve individuals
seeking employment to this day.
Despite great strides in the counseling profession
during this time, some professionals in the fields of
education and psychology were criticizing the narrow
focus on the guidance movement. In particular,
Edward Thorndike felt that the focus of the guidance
movement was too narrow.

The 1940s
The 1940s represented another decade of increased
recognition for counseling and the ongoing development
and definition of the profession. One of the most
significant events was World War II. During the war,
the U.S. government employed counselors and psychologists
to assist in selection and training of specialists
for both the military and industry. The war also
brought with it a necessary increase in the number of
women in the workforce. With so many men fighting
in the military, women were needed to fill the vacant
positions. The role of women in the workplace during
such an important time for the United States radically
changed the traditional sex roles formerly dominating
the workforce.
Another significant event for the field of counseling
that occurred during the 1940s was a growing
interest in psychotherapy. There was an emergence of
diverse theories—Carl Rogers’s client-centered and
nondirective theory in particular. Rogers grew in popularity
after the publication of his book Counseling
and Psychotherapy. He challenged Williamson’s
directive way of working with clients and focused on
the clients’ responsibility for their own growth. As is
evident from the history to this point, the focus of
counseling and guidance prior to Rogers was on testing,
assessment, and vocations. Through Rogers’s
influence, the focus of counseling shifted to relationship
dynamics, counseling technique, training of counselors,
and refinement of the goals of the counseling
relationship. Rogers’s theory came to the forefront of
counseling and psychology theories, but new counseling
theories emerged as well.
Following the war, several events occurred that
further promoted the counseling profession. The
George Barden Act of 1946 was passed, which
allocated vocational education funds for counselor
training programs: This included funding for counselor
educators, research, state program supervision,
local guidance supervisors, and school counselors.
Also during this time, the U.S. Department of
Veterans Affairs (VA) gave grants for counselors and
psychologists and paid for internships for graduate
students. With the combination of the George Barden
Act and support from the VA, graduate training programs
began defining their curriculum more clearly.

The 1950s
Building on the major changes that occurred during
the 1940s, the 1950s saw great changes and the
professionalization of counseling. As mentioned
previously, the counseling profession developed in the
context of historical events. The 1950s were a time of
great change with such historical events as the launch
of Sputnik, the baby boom, the women’s rights movement,
and the civil rights movement. While these
events were drastically changing the country, additional
simultaneous events were occurring that
changed the counseling profession. Specifically, these
events were the passing of the National Defense
Education Act (NDEA), professional developments,
the introduction of new guidance and counseling theories,
and the emergence of diverse marriage and
family counseling theories.
The National Defense Education Act (NDEA) was
initiated in response to Sputnik, a space satellite
launched by the Soviet Union. The purpose of the
NDEA was to promote studies in math, science, and
foreign languages. The NDEA sought to identify
children with particular abilities in these academic
areas. Although this was the original intent of NDEA,
this act also provided funding for improving school
counseling programs and for training counselors. This
decade saw the greatest increase in the number of
school counselors in a decade.
Concurrent to the growing numbers of counselors
nationwide, the profession itself was growing and
changing. 1952 saw (1) the establishment of the
American Personnel and Guidance Association
(APGA), (2) the establishment of Division 17, the
Division of Counseling Psychology of the American
Psychological Association, and (3) the founding of
the American School Counselor Association (ASCA).
A year after ASCA was founded, it became a division
of the APGA.

Finally, the 1950s saw the emergence of many
different theories. Prior to this time there were essentially
four primary theoretical orientations: psychoanalysis,
trait-factor theories, client-centered theories,
and behavioral theories. Within these four primary
orientations, practitioners worked with either nondirective
or directive counseling, but during this time,
new theories emerged, including cognitive theories,
behavioral theories, learning theories, and career theories.
Also, marriage and family therapy emerged to
an even greater extent, and major theorists in the marriage
and family therapy field, such as Gregory
Bateson, Virginia Satir, Jay Haley, Murray Bowen,
Carl Whitaker, and Salvador Minuchin were solidifying
the marriage and family movement.

The 1960s
In the 1960s, the baby boomers were growing up, and
the conservatism of the 1950s was changing to reflect
a new way of thinking, thus radically changing
American culture. The civil rights movement saw sitins,
protests, and assassinations. During this time,
women were entering the workforce in greater numbers,
and the National Organization of Women was
exposing the “glass ceiling.” Also during this time,
crime and drug use were increasing, and the United
States was once again at war, this time in Vietnam.
The societal changes of the times contributed to many
changes in the counseling profession, in particular a
solidification of the profession and a focus on the
needs created by the societal changes during this time.
In 1963, the Community Mental Health Act was
enacted. This act provided federal funding for community
mental health centers and was pivotal in changing
the dissemination of services for the mentally ill. It
allowed for individuals who would formerly have been
institutionalized to live in the community and receive
mental health support and services. The Community
Mental Health Act also provided funding for building
new community mental health centers through the
National Institute of Mental Health, thus providing
additional support for the provision of communitybased
care. In addition to major developments in the
care for the mentally ill, this act provided employment
opportunities for counselors.
This decade also saw increased professionalism in
the field of counseling. Specifically, the APGA published
its first code of ethics, providing guidelines for
ethical practice and ultimately protecting the public
and increasing professionalism. Also during this time,
an APGA report was edited that defined the role of
and the training standards for school counselors. The
American Psychological Association, Division 17,
continued to clarify the definition of the counseling
psychologist and published its first professional journal,
The Counseling Psychologist.
Another influence of the government on the development
of the counseling profession was the 1966
establishment of the Education Resources Information
Clearinghouse (ERIC). Specifically related to the
counseling profession was the ERIC section on
Counseling and Personnel Services (ERIC/CAPS) at
the University of Michigan. The ERIC was funded by
the Office of Educational Research and Improvement
through the U.S. Department of Education. The
ERIC/CAPS provided a comprehensive resource on
counseling activities and trends in the United States
and internationally. In addition to the development of
the database, conferences on counseling were sponsored,
bringing together leaders in the profession.
In 1962, Gilbert Wrenn wrote a seminal piece that
further defined the role of the school counselor.
Specifically, Wrenn wrote that the school counselor
should fill four functions: counsel students; consult
with parents, teachers, and administrators; study the
changing student population and interpret this information
for administrators and teachers; and coordinate
counseling services in the school and between the
school and the community.
As the profession grew and training standards
became more rigorous, the provision and regulation of
quality services also increased. This decade saw considerable
growth in the group movement and a shift
toward small group interaction and interpersonal
growth and awareness. Other major influences on the
profession during this time were the emergence of
Maslow’s humanistic counseling theory and of behavioral
counseling, which emphasized learning as the
root of change.
The counseling profession was paralleling the societal
changes of the times. Specifically, counselors
were being employed in more diverse settings, such as
mental health centers and community agencies.
Counselor training programs were also increasing in
number, meaning that more counselors were competing
for jobs as the programs graduated students.
Along with the increased availability of training and
more diverse employment opportunities, counselors
were seeking and receiving specialized training. The
term community counselor began to be used, paralleling
the diversification of employment opportunities,
with the new title implying a professional with diverse
roles and responsibilities.
A pivotal movement in the counseling profession
during this decade was for state and national licensure.
Restrictions on counselors’ ability to acquire
psychology licensure led to this movement. The
APGA started a task force to address licensure for
counselors, and a benchmark for its success was
the passing of successful licensure legislation in
Virginia in 1976. Two additional states, Alabama and
Arkansas, also had licensure legislation by the end of
the decade.

The 1970s
In the 1970s the profession became increasingly
strong. Headquarters for the APGAwere established in
Alexandria, Virginia, and several strong divisions were
chartered, including the Association of Counselor
Education and Supervision (ACES), the American
Mental Health Counseling Association (AMHCA),
the Association for Religious and Value Issues in
Counseling (now ASERVIC), the Association for
Specialists in Group Work (ASGW), the Association
for Non-White Concerns in Personnel and Guidance
(ANWC), and the Public Offender Counselor
Association. During this time, ACES published its first
standards for master’s degree programs in counseling,
and it approved guidelines for doctoral education in
counseling. As the profession became stronger, the
APGA began questioning professional identity, as the
personnel and guidance focus seemed increasingly
outdated and narrow.

The 1980s
The 1980s saw divorce rates increasing, violent crime
increasing, and prisons overflowing. Drug use was
considered an epidemic with the emergence of crack
cocaine, and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome
(AIDS) was claiming lives and demanding attention.
The counseling profession continued to grow and to
become a distinct profession, ultimately changing in
response to divergent societal needs.
In 1981, the Council for Accreditation of Counseling
and Related Education Programs (CACREP) was
formed. CACREP revised the original standards
developed by ACES in the 1970s. With those standards,
they standardized counselor training (counselor education)
programs for both master’s and doctoral
students in the areas of school, community, mental
health, marriage and family counseling, and personnel
At the same time, the National Board for Certified
Counselors (NBCC) was formed in 1983. The initial
intent of the NBCC was to certify counselors on a
national level. A large part of this process included
developing a standardized test covering eight major
subject areas: (1) human growth and development,
(2) social and cultural foundations, (3) helping relationships,
(4) groups, (5) lifestyle and career development,
(6) appraisal, (7) research and evaluation,
and (8) professional orientation. Passing the exam,
meeting experiential and educational requirements,
and character references allowed a person to earn
the National Certified Counselor (NCC) credential.
Accreditation and certification standards attracted
many to the profession.
A conversation continued from the late 1970s
became more prevalent during the 1980s, as leaders in
the APGA recognized that “personnel and guidance”
no longer fit in describing the work of the members.
In response, the APGA was changed to the American
Association for Counseling and Development
(AACD). Professional identity and commitment was
increasingly important to members of AACD.
Representative of this commitment was the formation
of Chi Sigma Iota, the academic and professional honors
society for counselors. Chi Sigma Iota was formed
by Thomas J. Sweeney to promote excellence in the
counseling profession.
AACD saw an increase in membership and an
increase in the number of divisions, highlighting the
diversification in the counseling field. Throughout
this decade, the focus on developmental issues across
the life span was led by developmental theorists such
as Erik Erikson and Lawrence Kohlberg. A new division
of the AACD, the Association for Multicultural
Counseling and Development (AMCD) represented
an increased focus on recognizing the challenges of
counseling individuals from diverse ethnic and cultural

The 1990s
The technology boom, low unemployment rates, and
highly publicized violence (the Los Angeles riots, the
World Trade Center bombing, the O. J. Simpson trial,
the Oklahoma City bombing, and school shootings)
marked the 1990s. During this time the counseling
profession was continuing to define itself professionally,
was demanding appropriate supervision in
response to the diverse needs of counseling consumers,
and was dealing with restricted funding. Two primary
influences in the 1990s, in addition to advances in
technology, were managed care and an increase in
In 1992, the AACD instituted another name
change, this time to the American Counseling
Association (ACA). Also in 1992, counseling was
included in the healthcare human resource statistics
compiled by the Center for Mental Health Services
and the National Institute of Mental Health, marking
counseling as a primary mental health profession.
A final key event that occurred in 1992 was the writing
of multicultural counseling standards and competencies
by Derald Wing Sue, Patricia Arredondo, and
Roderick McDavis.
Finally, during this time there was a return to
emphasizing counseling the whole person; this meant
counselors took into consideration the importance of
societal influences and the context of a client’s life,
such as his or her spirituality, family, and occupation.
Organizations established in the 1970s and 1980s
such as CACREP, Chi Sigma Iota, and NBCC experienced
continued growth during this time, more states
were passing licensure legislation for counselors, and
both ACA and APA were publishing articles and
books on counseling.

Further Readings
Aubrey, R. (1977). Historical development of guidance and
counseling and implications for the future. Personnel and
Guidance Journal, 55(6), 288–295.
Aubrey, R. (1982). A house divided: Guidance and
counseling in 20th-Century America. Personnel and
Guidance Journal, 61(4), 198–204.
Beagle, A. V. (1986). Trivial pursuit: The history of guidance.
The School Counselor, 34, 14–17.
Engels, D. W. (1980). Looking forward via hindsight:
A rationale for reviewing our ideological roots. Personnel
and Guidance Journal, 59, 183–185.
Gladding, S. (1984). History and systems of counseling:
A course whose time has come. Counselor Education and
Supervision, 24, 325–331.
Heppner, P. P. (Ed.). (1990). Pioneers in counseling and
development: Personal and professional perspectives.
Alexandria, VA: American Association for Counseling
and Development.
Sheeley, V. L. (2002). American Counseling Association: The
50th year celebration of excellence. Journal of
Counseling and Development, 80(4), 387–393.
Smith, H., & Robinson, G. (1995). Mental health counseling:
Past, present, and future. Journal of Counseling and
Development, 74(2), 158–162.
Stone, L. A. (1985). National Board for Certified Counselors:
History, relationships, and projections. Journal of
Counseling and Development, 63, 605–606.
Web Sites
American Counseling Association:

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