The Evolution Of Mental Health Counseling

The Evolution Of Mental Health Counseling

An increasing number of Americans have turned to mental health treatment in recent years. According to a 2022 article in USA Today, the rate of adults seeking treatment for depression, anxiety and other related mental health disorders grew from 19.2 percent in 2019 to 21.6 percent in 2021. Students who plan to go into this field have a lot to look forward to. By all indications, the demand for counseling services will continue to rise in the coming years. 

One way to become a highly qualified counselor is to enroll in an MA counseling online program through an institution such as American International College. This course covers counseling theories and techniques, while giving students the opportunity to study remotely and continue to meet work and family commitments as they pursue their degree. Students also learn about crisis intervention and trauma-informed care, as well as multicultural studies and the social bases of behavior. 

By the time you qualify, you will know how to assess mental health issues and human dynamics. You will also have a good understanding of social justice, psychopathology, ethics and human development. 

Before you enroll in a Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling online, it helps to have a little background in the field. A little history and a glimpse into the techniques that are in use will help put your studies in context. 

A brief history of counseling

Beginning in the 20th century, counseling was treated as an educational tool, rather than as a mental health treatment. However, during the Great Depression, it started to be used to help people cope with the difficulties they were facing, and the medical community woke up to the fact that it could become a mainstream method to handle mental health issues. 

Carl Rogers developed the principles of psychotherapy in the 1940s, and one of his driving ideas was that if people could talk about their problems, it would help bring clarity and chart a way forward. 

It wasn’t until the Second World War that the value of counseling was fully realized. Counselors would talk to soldiers before and after deployment to help them prepare mentally to fight, and to resolve many battlefield issues when they returned home. 

Modern counseling came about in the 1950s. In 1963, the Community Health Act was enacted, which evolved into counseling as we know it today. It was an initiative by President John F. Kennedy, who believed that rather than sending people to state mental health hospitals, referring people to treatment centers was more helpful. It created a demand for counselors, and America has never looked back. 

Today, those who qualify as counselors are well positioned to secure jobs helping people within their communities overcome all sorts of mental health issues. 

Modern techniques that are used in counseling

As the discipline grew, psychologists, psychiatrists and other health practitioners developed techniques that have come to be widely accepted as useful. They can be summarized as follows:

Behavioral theory

This theory examines life experiences, with the view that conditioning affects behavior. For example, someone may be violent because they experienced violence as a child. 

If one can understand their life experiences, they have a better chance of breaking away from negative behaviors.

Cognitive theory

Rather than look at one’s actions, this theory focuses on how thoughts influence behavior. The counselor talks to the patient to identify negative thoughts that may be holding them back and influencing their behavior. 

If, for example, one has a phobia, examining their thoughts regarding that phobia is likely to prove that their fears are unfounded.

Humanistic theory

This theory assumes that human beings are good, and they seek agency over their lives. By examining subjective feelings, the counselor can identify what is holding their client back and help them overcome it. 

Integrative theory

This is a theory that combines the behavioral, cognitive and humanistic theories of counseling. It assumes that if mental health can be approached from all three angles, then there is a higher chance of success. 

Spheres of influence

This theory involves examining the patient’s life to see what may be influencing their current behavior. The idea is to distinguish good from bad influences so that the patient can focus on the good. 


This is a technique that allows the client to confront the negative aspects of their life and question them for what they are. They look for the good and retain that, and also identify unhelpful behaviors so that they can get rid of them. 


This technique allows the counselor to speak their mind about the behaviors that are holding the client back. If they are honest and the patient is open to listening, it can help them move forward and eliminate negative behaviors. 

Core conditions

Under this theory, the counselor uses empathy, warmth, positivity and genuineness to help people overcome their mental health issues. 


Immediacy involves the counselor pointing out things that occur in the present time that are a reflection of some of the behaviors that are holding the patient back. 

By highlighting something that has just occurred, the patient can focus on it, identify its source and hopefully reflect on how they can do better in the future. 

Positive asset search

This theory involves helping patients identify their positive attributes and focus on those. 


There are many counseling techniques, and you will likely end up using a mix of them when you eventually become a practitioner. Counselors are encouraged to tailor their treatments to their patients. Each patient is unique, so a customized approach tends to lead to a more successful outcome. 

About the author


Mike K. Watson

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