In cultures and contexts worldwide, individuals who demonstrate skill in listening, providing compassion and/or assisting others as they navigate life’s challenges often find themselves being sought out. They may even become informal or formal leaders in their communities. This is the basis of counseling.
The exact definition of counseling varies because positive counseling behaviors adapt to specific contexts. Generally, professional counseling is the process whereby specially trained individuals work with others individually, in families and/or in groups to address and work to resolve personal and interpersonal issues by using active listening, goal setting and behavior change, and by teaching new skills and problem-solving. Counseling as a profession is supported by quality assurance structures, implemented by an expert group or government body, that mandate the specific knowledge and skills necessary to be a professional counselor.
Professional counselors are different from traditional sources of support or guidance in that they have received formal training and supervision, and generally adhere to standards of professional practice and conduct. Training, supervision, and practice and conduct standards are developed based on regional, national and/or more local contexts. Generally speaking, “counselors use professional knowledge and skills to assist people who are experiencing life changes. Counselors may help others with concerns that include stress, loss, career, relationships and other personal issues. Some individuals may be struggling with mental illnesses while others are dealing with common life changes.” (Schweiger, Henderson, McCaskill, Clawson, and Collins, 2011, pp. 5)
Schweiger, W. K., Henderson, D. A., McCaskill, K., Clawson, T. W., & Collins, D. M. (2011). Counselor Preparation: Programs, Faculty, Trends (13th Edition). New York: Routledge and the National Board for Certified Counselors.