This website uses cookies to store information on your computer. Some of these cookies are used for visitor analysis, others are essential to making our site function properly and improve the user experience. By using this site, you consent to the placement of these cookies. Click Accept to consent and dismiss this message or Deny to leave this website. Read our Privacy Statement for more.
Eye on Psi Chi: Fall 1999

Eye on Psi Chi

Fall 1999 | Volume 4 | Issue 1


Counseling Psychology: Making Lives Better

Jean Carter, PhD
APA Division of Counseling President

Ted Strickland is the first psychologist in the U.S. Congress and a former prison psychologist. Richard Suinn is president of the American Psychological Association and chair of the Psychology Department at Colorado State University. Carol Goodheart, who is president of "Psychologists in Independent Practice," the largest division of the American Psychological Association, treats cancer patients. Sandra Shullman owns and operates a consulting business, applying developmental principles to organizations and executives. Christine Courtois is the clinical director of an inpatient treatment center for sexual abuse survivors. Morgan Sammons is one of the first prescribing psychologists for the U.S. Department of Defense project on prescription privileges for psychologists. Derald Wing Sue is a university professor and recognized expert in multicultural competence training. John Holland is a professor emeritus and developer of the coding system used by the U.S. Department of Labor for classifying occupations. Louise Douce is director of training at the counseling center at the Ohio State University. And I am president of the APA Division of Counseling Psychology and have a private psychotherapy practice. What do we all have in common? We're all counseling psychologists, engaged in a wide variety of work activities in a wide range of settings. With so much diversity, what are the common themes of counseling psychology that unite us?

We enjoy helping people. We like finding what's good about people and helping them use their own assets and strengths to make their own lives better--a focus on assets, adaptation, and coping. We are curious about person-environment interaction and how it affects behavior--person-environment interaction. We are interested in the world of work, choosing a career and making a good work adjustment--a focus on career and vocational concerns. We appreciate and pay attention to many forms of diversity in this multicultural world we live in--attention to the importance of context. If you share these interests, you should consider counseling psychology.

What is counseling psychology?

Counseling psychology is one of the general practice specialties in psychology, so it has lots in common with clinical psychology, school psychology, and industrial/organizational psychology. Like the others, counseling psychology strongly endorses the scientist-practitioner model of training, and all counseling psychologists are taught both research and practice. Like the others, counseling psychology graduates may work in many settings.

But counseling psychology has its own unique spin on the world, a way counseling psychologists approach the world and the people in it. Counseling psychology facilitates personal and interpersonal functioning across the life span and focuses on emotional, social, vocational, educational, health-related, developmental, and organizational concerns. The specialty focuses on health, strengths, and assets, with particular attention to adjustment, coping, and normal development, as well as distress and dysfunction. It integrates theory, research, and practice to understand and to foster individuals' well-being and increased ability to live more effective lives.

Particular areas of attention for counseling psychologists include:

  • applying developmental principles to individuals, families, groups, and organizations;
  • understanding diversity in gender, ethnicity, race, culture, sexual orientation, and disability, and using this understanding to enhance well-being and to promote competence with diverse populations for researchers, teachers, and practitioners;
  • attending to the role of work and to career and vocational adjustment;
  • using principles of coping and well-being to promote healthy behavior and effective adjustment to health problems.
Where do we work?

Counseling psychologists commonly work in college and university academic departments, as well as in counseling centers, independent practice, hospitals, and in other health-care settings. Counseling psychologists may also work in a variety of organizational settings.

What kind of education do you need?

Like the other practice specialties in psychology, a doctoral degree is necessary for licensure as a psychologist and is most often required for work in nonpractice settings as well. Counseling psychology programs, which are typically accredited by the American Psychological Association, may be housed in either a psychology department or a school of education and are recently developing in professional schools of psychology. Counseling psychologists may receive a PhD, an EdD (Doctorate of Education), or a PsyD (Doctorate of Psychology).

In graduate school, you would study the core of psychology as well as vocational and career psychology; multiculturalism and diversity; testing and assessment; and counseling and psychotherapy, including both individual and group approaches. Practice courses called practicum are necessary, and a yearlong predoctoral internship is required. Many counseling psychologists have internships at college and university counseling centers and in Veterans Administration settings, as well as other health-care settings.

Where can I get more information about counseling psychology?

The main group representing counseling psychology is Division 17, the Division of Counseling Psychology of the American Psychological Association. You can visit the Division 17 website at to learn more about counseling psychology and about Division 17, or e-mail me at There is a Student Affiliate Group of Division 17 for graduate students in counseling psychology; for information e-mail You can also visit the APA website at A good book about counseling psychology is Counseling Psychology by Charles J. Gelso and Bruce R. Fretz (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992). Journals focusing on counseling psychology include The Counseling Psychologist and The Journal of Counseling Psychology.

/ / /

Above: One of the ways counseling psychologists make significant contributions to the betterment of humankind is through publications. Above are examples of recent books by some of the psychologists named in the introduction to this article: Recollections of Sexual Abuse: Treatment Principles and Guidelines by Christine A. Courtois; Counseling the Culturally Different: Theory and Practice by Derald Wing Sue and David Sue; and, Treating People With Chronic Disease: A Psychological Guide by Carol D. Goodheart and Martha H. Lansing.

Jean Carter, PhD , is the current president of the Division of Counseling Psychology of the American Psychological Association (Division 17). She has an independent psychotherapy practice in Washington, D.C., which she loves and finds new and exciting every day. She is an adjunct member of the graduate faculty in counseling psychology at the University of Maryland and has published several articles on the psychotherapy relationship.

Copyright 1999 (Vol. 4, Iss. 1) Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology

Psi Chi Central Office
651 East 4th Street, Suite 600
Chattanooga, TN 37403

Phone: 423.756.2044 | Fax: 423.265.1529


Certified member of the
Association of College Honor Societies