A Brief History of Counselling

Counselling Tutor: A Brief History of Counselling

A Brief History of Counselling

To understand the history of counselling, we begin with the realisation that throughout the years, human beings have found comfort in sharing their problems or telling their story to others. The old saying ‘ a problem shared is a problem halved’  tells us one universal human truth: that when things get difficult or we have to make decisions in our life, sometimes we need someone to listen and ‘hear our story’ so we can get a better idea of our options.

tribe-around-campfireCounselling history can be traced back to tribal times where people would came together in a group and share their experiences and sometimes their dreams. As civilisation developed, religion offered a type of counselling, usually by priests who would listen and advise parishioners on their problems (they still do).

In the  1890’s, German neurologist Sigmund Freud developed a theory later to be called psychoanalysis, which allowed individuals to tell their problems to a ‘psychoanalyst,’ an individual trained in interpreting the ‘subconscious’ , that part of our psyche that we are not aware of but influences what we do. Freud played an important part in the history of counselling, but the actual word “counselling” did not come into everyday language until the 1960’s.

Sigmund Freud

Counselling really took off after the Second World War, in 1950’s America. Most of the therapies we hear about today can trace their origins back to a handful of psychologists and psychiatrists (some of whom we will look at in this guide) who developed techniques and theories, sometimes referred to as ‘schools’ of therapy.

The word ‘school’ in counselling does not mean a building or campus. Rather it refers to how psychologists believe human beings develop their view of the world they live in and how they cope with it. The three schools are Psychoanalytical, Behaviourist, and Humanistic, which we will look at later in this guide.

There have been many developments in counselling since the 1950’s. A lot of research has taken place and this has given us a better understanding of what makes human beings think and act in certain ways. However most psychologists and counsellors would agree that we are a long way from fully understanding what makes each human being unique.

It is worth considering that counselling has rapidly developed since Freud's time with hew ideas an approaches emerging from the late 1800s to the present day.

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Brief History of Counselling

Counselling History -Timeline

Counselling as a profession started to emerge in the 1900s when psychologists and medical professionals tried to understand what factors caused low mood and depression and how it could be treated

Below are significant milestones in the history of Counselling and psychotherapy

  • 1886 – Sigmund Freud started practising in Vienna. He went on to develop Psychoanalysis  
  • 1951 – Carl Rogers outlined his person-centred approach in his book, Client-Centered Therapy.
  • 1951 – Fritz Perls, Paul Goodman, and Ralph Hefferline.outlined Gestalt therapy in the book  Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality
  • 1954 – Abraham Maslow helped to found Humanistic psychology and later developed his famous Hierarchy of Needs.
  • 1955 – Albert Ellis began the first form of cognitive behavioural therapy which he called Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy ( REBT)
  • 1959 –Viktor Frankl published the English edition of his book  Man's Search for Meaning, which provided an existential account of his experiences as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. The book also outlines an existential approach to counselling known as Logotherapy
  • 1967 Aaron Beck developed Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) suggesting that in terms of depression the way we think contributes to our emotional well being.


Post-Modern Approaches to Counselling

The term 'Post Modern' in counselling refers to questioning the assumptions of previous theories. Proposing there is no truly objective way of measuring mental well being.

The are three types of postmodern therapies:

  • Narrative Therapy was developed through the 1970s and 1980s, by Michael White and David Epston who proposed that cultural influences and unconscious processes shape human behaviour.
  • Solution-Focused Therapy is a future-focused, goal-oriented approach which helps clients replace problems for solutions. American researchers Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg developed the theory in the late 1970s.
  • Collaborative Language systems were developed by Harlene Anderson Harry Goolishian during the 1980s. They propose the client works through their difficulties in the conversations they have with the therapist.

Page updated 8th of May 2019

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