Theories of Counselling: Why are they Important?

Last week, my counselling course (Level 3) started again – therefore, my weekly learning journals and insights will return. Please feel free to comment and share your own experiences of counselling training.

Learning Journal for Week 1: Wednesday 26th September, 2012

One of the aspects of Level 3 Counselling Studies that I am most looking forward to is gaining an understanding of the theories of counselling and mental health.  Coming from an academic background, much of my work for the last few years has been based on theory. I even developed and tested my own theory of subjective health perceptions as part of my PhD (Davies et al., 2008). Theory is what I find interesting – it excites me to learn the underlying factors that drive a discipline, in this case person-centred counselling (PCC). Having an understanding of the theory can give meaning to what is being taught and why.

During my reading of PCC I have learnt that although all counselling approaches are based on some theoretical framework, PCC is an approach that has traditionally stayed away from being taught as based on an explicit theory or model. The theory is there and clearly described by Rogers (1951), however, it is not emphasised or tested to the level of other counselling approaches. It could be argued that this needs to be addressed, since theory provides the foundations of good counselling. After all, a theory provides the counsellor with a framework that they can use to explore the counselling process, the clients problems, and indeed, to measure progress against.

Boy and Pine (1983) state that there are six functions of theory in counselling:

1)    It helps counsellors find unity and relatedness within the diversity of existence.

2)    It compels counsellors to examine relationships they would otherwise overlook.

3)    It gives counsellors operational guidelines by which to work and helps them evaluate their development as professionals.

4)    It helps counsellors focus on relevant information and tells them what to look for.

5)    It helps counsellors assist clients in the effective modification of their behaviour, cognitions, emotional functioning, and interpersonal relationships.

6)    It helps counsellors evaluate both old and new approaches to the process of counselling.


From my work in the healthcare sector, I would add that another function is to establish an evidence-base for PCC. There is a growing need for different approaches of counselling to be proven via theory and the testing of theory through research. This is why cognitive behavioural therapy has become so popular and recommended by the NHS; it is evidence-based – at least in the short-term anyway (NICE, 2008).

The theoretical framework that PCC is based on is humanistic counselling, which is also the theory that Existential and Gestalt counselling are based on. Humanistic therapies focus on the potential of individuals to actively choose and decide about important matters within their lives. At the core of this in PCC is the self-actualizing tendency, which is the “inherent tendency of the organism to develop all its capacities in ways which serve to maintain or enhance the organism” (Rogers, 1959, p. 196) – in other words, Rogers believed that each person has the capacity to find personal meaning and life purpose. This is only a small aspect of PCC theory, the rest of which will be discussed in a future learning journal.



Boy, A.V. and Pine, G. (1990). A Person-Centered Foundation for Counseling and Psychotherapy. Springfield, Illinois: Charles C.Thomas Publisher.

Charema, J. (2004). Theoretical framework and literature review. PhD, University of Pretoria etd.

Davies, N., Kinman, G., Thomas, R., and Bailey, T. (2008). Health baseline comparison theory: Predicting quality of life in breast and prostate cancer. Health Psychology Update, 17(3), pp. 3-12.

National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE). 2008. Cognitive behavioural therapy for the management of common mental health problems. Commissioning guide.

Rogers, C. (1951). Client-centered Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications and Theory. London: Constable.

Rogers, C. (1959). A theory of therapy, personality, and interpersonal relationships, as developed in the client-centred framework. In S. Koch (ed) Psychology: A Study of a Science, Vol 3. New York: Penguin.

Categories: Counselling, Personal/Professional Development, Psychology

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

34 replies

  1. Good luck with your course Nicola, look forward to reading your posts.

  2. Am studying counselling and i found this very important . Thumbs up !

  3. Good luck with your studies James – such a wonderful path to take!

  4. Also studying counselling, this was such a help, and very interesting! think i may print to keep in my file…… THANK YOU 🙂

  5. Thanks, this work has been very helpful.

  6. Am writing my a BIG thank u and good luck.

    • Aisha, I just wish you all the best . I don’t know in which country do you live and study this wonderfully amazing course? Why so its because I have just finished my third year studying Guidance and Counseling here in Malawi at the Guidance Counseling and Youth Development Centre for Africa. Sooner I will be doing my fourth and final year. For sure I want to pursue a Masters on the same.

      Good night and continue to work hard , lets keep in touch.

      • Hie, I wrote thus email sometime back such that as am talking I graduated with BA . I enrolled for a MA in Guidance and Counseling as well and am expected to graduate December 2016 having undergone all the requirements Good day

        On Thursday, October 27, 2016, Health Psychology Consultancy wrote: > Anas A Yusuf commented: “Good” >

  7. My question to you have you done your own work on yourself ? Have you been in counselling for yourself, been in group work ?. One cannot help clients if they have not done the work themselves. One cannot ask a client to do something such as attend A.A ,get a sponsor if they have not been to meetings. All sounds good what you write but it is all very different when you are face to face with a difficult client

  8. My question to you is– have you done your own work on yourself ? Have you been in counselling for yourself, been in group work ?. One cannot help clients if they have not done the work themselves. One cannot ask a client to do something such as attend A.A ,get a sponsor if they have not been to meetings. All sounds good what you write but it is all very different when you are face to face with a difficult client

    • Good question, Patrick. I believe that personal counselling is fundamental to counselling training, so yes, I have worked on myself and continue to work on myself. I believe counsellors need to be clients themselves at some point to be able to put themselves in their frame of reference. They don’t need to have had the same problems, but they do need to know what it is like to be the client in a counsellor-client relationship.

  9. I would like to know what councelling theories are?

  10. Hi.!!! Am studying BA.Ed guidance and counselling is one of my course…….I found this article very helpful…..THANK U SO MAY BLESS U!!!!!!

  11. Sorry Dr Nicola I would like to know what does the following terms mean in counselling?……(a)empathic understanding (b)psychological health (c)personal warmth (d)trustworthiness

  12. I found your article very helpful. I am studying Counselling studie in England. I decided to do this course after being in counselling myself for 7 years. This course has been so amazing and motivating.

  13. Am Stephen Kimathi from Kenya ,currently pursuing higher diploma in psychological counseling,i found this this articles very much helpful,can u please explain briefly the importance of counseling theories .

  14. What is differentiation between theory of work,practice, and self

  15. Hello
    All my thanks and greateful upon you
    Me too i am studying guidance and counselling and i am found this article very important to me thanks

    My questions is there a different between important and functions of counselling theory

  16. Hello Maam
    Me too i am studying that great course
    But my problem is about reality therapy i need you help pls

  17. Beatiful…. I lyk it

  18. How amazing it is to come across birds if the same feathers…im pursuing a degree in guidance n counselling and whilst looking for info, I came across this…..thumbs up guys!!

  19. I am John and intend to try out the PCC model on some clients who are hetero sexual clients and are “Most at risk” of acquiring HIV; this is an insight on the partake of theories in Counseling. Thanks!

  20. Iam schooling in university of abuja in Nigeria, studing guidance and counselling. Pls can any one tell me five important of theories counselling ? Pls i need it urgent

  21. Person-centred
    Cognitive-behavioural therapy
    Adlerian Therapy
    Gestalt Therapy

    Hope this helps 🙂

  22. An erudite presentation.

  23. What’s up colleagues, its impressive paragraph regarding
    cultureand fully explained, keep it up all the time.

  24. Yeah thanks for the good work keep it up at least have gained something good to know and talk about

  25. I have have just read your article and found it to be most helpful, as I am just finishing up on an some work that was assigned to myself and the rest of my Level 3 Counselling class.



  26. Thank you soo much. I collect good points to my assignment

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