Millions of people have experienced the benefits of counseling. Counseling is a specific mental health discipline that includes aspects of guidance and psychotherapy (Erford, 2018). It focuses on a wellness model aimed at improving the quality of life and involves both the counselor and client in collaboration.
Outcome research measures the effectiveness of counseling interventions and responses to the therapeutic process (Erford, 2018). Using theory and empirically validated research keeps counselors and the profession accountable and ethical. While experiencing the benefits of counseling is the goal, outcome research allows us to find best practices, evaluate techniques, and optimize counseling approaches for clients.
Psychotherapy and other counseling techniques help individuals explore moods and behaviors, provide fresh perspectives, and offer a better understanding of emotions.
Counseling can help improve mood, treat mental illness, reduce medical costs, improve communication and relationships, and promote self-esteem and resilience.
Here is a list of the benefits of counseling based on research.
1. Scientific evidence for treating mental illness and improving mood
Counselors use a myriad of techniques and approaches to improve the mental health and wellbeing of clients.
Gingerich and Eisengart (2000) reviewed 15 outcome studies regarding the efficacy of solution-focused brief therapy. (SFBT) for depression, anxiety, parenting skills, psychosocial adjustment, antisocial behaviors, alcohol use, and family conflict. Five of the studies were tightly controlled, and all of them found SFBT to be significantly better than no treatment.
Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions in the world. It is a chronic condition that hinders quality of life, involves sleep problems, appetite changes, and feelings of guilt or apathy (Lambert, 2004). The three types of depression that can be effectively treated with counseling include:
- Major depressive disorder
- Seasonal affective disorder
A systematic review of 30 studies examining the effectiveness of counseling/therapy treatments found that psychological treatment of depression was more effective than traditional treatment (pharmacological) or no treatment at all (Linde et al., 2015).
All studies in the meta-analysis were randomized, controlled trials of depressed adults in primary care. The research found that Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) was particularly effective in both short- and long-term treatment trials.
Anxiety is another common mental health condition affecting approximately 19% of the U.S. population (National Institute of Health, 2017). Clinical anxiety is chronic and often debilitating for people.
The three main types of anxiety are:
- Generalized anxiety
- Social anxiety
Many forms of counseling have been found to treat anxiety effectively, relieve uncomfortable symptoms, and adjust maladaptive behaviors.
While CBT consistently demonstrates the most effective results at relieving symptoms of anxiety, Acceptance nd commitment Therapy, mindfulness, and talk therapy have also been used as counseling techniques to effectively reduce anxiety (Arch & Craske, 2008).
2. Another form of anxiety: Counseling for OCD
Several theories came forward in the 1940s that explained the fear/anxiety and avoidance of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), where the fear of a stimulus is avoided to reduce anxiety, and the behavioral avoidance results in repeated compulsive rituals (Jacofsky, Santos, Khemlani-Patel, & Neziroglu, n.d.).
Once OCD was seen as an anxiety disorder, early behavioral therapy such as aversion therapy and exposure therapy were developed to treat the condition.
Today, there are over 40 years of research to support a consensus among researchers and counseling professionals that CBT is an effective treatment for OCD. Exposure-based treatments have the largest pool of evidence to support efficacy, and about 80% of patients respond to some form of therapy for OCD (Frances, Docherty, & Kahn, 1997).
3. Counseling can reduce medical costs
There is a direct link between physical and mental health. Often, when individuals treat underlying mental health conditions or receive counseling to help regulate emotions and improve mood, physical health improves as well.
One study found that psychological treatment among individuals with chronic physical conditions in small group settings decreased medical care costs by $10 for every $1 spent (Lorig et al., 1999). This shows the significant physical and financial benefits counseling can offer.
4. Counseling can provide education and teach skills
Psychoeducation is the process of explaining mental health conditions, diagnoses, services, and treatment options.
Many people who come to counseling know that they are suffering but understand nothing about the underlying causes, specific conditions, or how certain techniques can address presenting problems.
Psychoeducation can help normalize problems, decrease stigma, and increase compliance with treatment plans. It is a large component of many trauma treatments. Among individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia, psychoeducation was found to reduce rehospitalization rates and reduce the number of days a patient was hospitalized (Bauml, Frobose, Kraemer, Rentrop, & Pitchel-Waltz, 2006).
Various techniques are used in counseling to teach and practice skills that provide both short- and long-term relief. Clients learn general skills like self-awareness, active listening, and communication skills as well as specific mindfulness and behavior change skills.
As an example, CBT skills teach clients how to identify and reframe faulty thought patterns that lead to distressing emotions. This Positive replacement Thoughts worksheet is a typical example. Learning and practicing these skills in counseling sessions can change long-term patterns of negative thoughts and behaviors.
5. Counseling can promote factors of resilience
Resilience factors include (Johnston et al., 2015):
- Having meaning or purpose in life
- Experiencing positive emotions
- Active coping
- Cognitive flexibility
While there are specific resilience-training programs focused on improving these factors, many forms of counseling increase these aspects of resilience too.
Through discussion, role-play, practical exercises, and homework, various counseling procedures offer a basis for teaching and strengthening resilience. For example, “stress inoculation therapy” designed for anxiety has also improved measures of resilience (Meichenbaum, 2007).
Stress inoculation therapy is a form of positive CBT that can teach individuals more adaptive patterns of thinking and emotional and behavioral responses. Most clients come to counseling looking for help with one specific area of their life, but they can leave therapy with new insights and tools that provide meaning, positive emotions, coping skills, and a healthier sense of self-worth.