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The Many Different Kinds of Counseling

Updated on January 13, 2013

There are many different kinds of counseling, but each type of therapy can be categorized into one of four broad approaches. The four primary areas of focus in counseling involve looking at a person's 1) background and previous experiences, 2) emotions, 3) thoughts, or 4) actions. The acronym BETA is a helpful way to remember these distinctions, which are not nearly as complicated as they may seem at first. Let me explain.

The main point of organizing the many types of counseling into these categories is to simplify the basic meaning of a specific type of therapy. It is essential to remember, however, that most types of counseling use a combined or integrative approach and do not fall exclusively into one, single category. It is also important to remember that a specific diagnosis or problem can be addressed effectively through different types of counseling. The BETA perspective provides an easy way to describe the general goals and direction of any type of counseling approach, and gives a sense of the strategies and techniques that both clients and counselors alike can expect to be associated with treatment.

Let’s start with the first category: Background. The headliner for this approach is Sigmund Freud, the original pioneer of psychology who developed psychoanalysis. His influence has extended into our common language through terms such as Oedipal complex, the unconscious, ego, etc. The work of Carl Jung, the theory of object relations, and transactional analysis are also part of the counseling approaches that focus on addressing a person’s background, early experiences and history. A core belief of counselors who rely on this approach is that the roots of a person’s current problems originate in their past, which must be explored in treatment. The development of insight is therefore an important goal of this type of counseling.

Counseling approaches that primarily address emotions focus on helping people identify, understand, express, and manage feelings. The work of Carl Rogers is perhaps the most pure example of this type of counseling. The quality of the therapeutic relationship often takes a forefront in this form of treatment. Existential therapy and Victor Frankl, who described his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp in Man’s Search for Meaning, are also associated with this counseling approach. Guided imagery is a technique commonly used in therapy to address emotional problems.

As a counselor myself, I most often prefer to use a treatment approach that focuses primarily on increasing awareness of one’s thoughts and perceptions and then modifying negative thinking. The basic assumption of this type of counseling was described by the Greek philosopher Epictetus nearly 2500 years ago as: People are disturbed not be the events in their lives, but by the view which they take of them. Eminent cognitive therapist Albert Ellis said it this way: "You feel the way you think." Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the best known approach of this type of counseling. Eye Movement Desentization and Reprocessing (EMDR), a common treatment for psychologial trauma, is often categorized as a cognitive approach.

Finally, there are counseling approaches that address actions or behaviors. Ivan Pavlov and B.F. Skinner are responsible for bringing us the concepts of classical and operant conditioning, or learning via association or reward, respectively. Motivation is a key concept in behavioral counseling. Developing goals, practicing new skills and measurement of progress are important strategies in behavioral approaches. Substance abuse counseling, exposure therapy and behavior modification for children are good examples of counseling focused on addressing a person’s actions. Although it is derived from CBT, Dialetical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is also an approach focused on changing one's behaviors.

Each of us is made up our background, emotions, thoughts and actions. Though most counselors use an integrated, or eclectic style of therapy, the well-informed client is often able to improve more quickly in treatment with goals that specifically target one or more of the four BETA categories for change.

There is only one you. You deserve the best. You are worth it. Don’t give up.

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