What are the different methods and practices used by counselors?

There are many different types of counseling out there, and there are plenty to choose from. Counseling and therapy have existed as respected disciplines for well over a century, and in that time, there has been a huge increase in focus on how the mind works and what its effects are on people — for that reason, the field has become large and diverse. From older sub-disciplines, such as the psychoanalytic approach, to newer options, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, there is a lot to look at. This blog post will share details of some of the major approaches and how they are used by counselors in practice.


Perhaps one of the main types of counseling that people think of when they think of going to see a therapist is that related to Sigmund Freud, who was known for being one of the forefathers of therapy. Psychoanalytic counseling, as his school of practice is known, refers to a view of the mind as having three parts: the conscious mind, which contains everything a person is aware of thinking about in a precise moment, the pre-conscious mind, which contains everything that could quickly and easily move into the conscious, and — perhaps most interestingly — the subconscious mind, which is the location of everything that has been ‘buried,’ or is painful to bring up into the conscious mind. This could include past trauma, repressed memories, or something else altogether.

In terms of how this kind of therapy is used, there is a whole host of possibilities. A counselor using this method may ask the client if they want to work to bring some thoughts out of the subconscious mind and into the conscious mind in order to give them a better understanding of themselves. They may ask the client to tell them about their dreams, for example, as that is thought — under this school of therapeutic thought — to be a way to see whatever is in the subconscious. If a person dreams about their old lovers, for example, that could be brought to the fore in the counseling room to examine whether the person is burying thoughts of dissatisfaction about their current partner.


Working in a humanistic way is very common for counselors, and it is quickly becoming one of the main modes of thought in the field. It is all about coming to know the client as a rounded individual — a person with a bespoke set of fears, hopes, and thought processes, and how that person engages with the world they see around them.

This differs from psychoanalytic methods in that it focuses, in particular, on the person as a changeable being. It prioritizes the idea that a person who is experiencing mental health challenges has the capacity to change and lead a happier life rather than simply the idea that they have a subconscious mind. A humanistic counselor is likely to use tools such as establishing an empathy-based relationship with the client. This involves the counselor using questions, paraphrasing, and reflective wording to show that they know what the person is going through and that they are heard.

Those who are studying for a mental health counseling online degree at an institution like the American International College are likely to find themselves focusing to some extent on humanistic theories. This is, in part, because humanistic theories are respected theories but also because of the broader role that humanistic therapies play in the modern therapy landscape. Many therapists who move into the counseling field aim to work with a humanistic approach, or at least in a way that is informed by humanistic thought, so it makes sense why humanistic counseling is so popular.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Finally, it is also important to look at some of the most modern approaches to counseling. One term on the lips of many currently in this sector is ‘cognitive behavioral therapy.’ This refers to a form of counseling in which the way that you think is explored with your counselor as a way of working out how your thought patterns may be affecting your behavior.

What is notable about CBT, as it is often known for short, is that it can be delivered in fairly short bursts. Unlikely psychoanalytical counseling, which is often delivered over a longer period of time and relies in part on techniques of immersion, depth, and focus, CBT has a ‘here and now’ focus that can give people the tools they need to overcome specific problems. For this reason, it is often used in the context of treating conditions that have a strong behavioral or ritualistic element, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder.


In sum, there are plenty of ways in which counselors can make the most of the rich techniques and disciplines on offer. From the focus on the subconscious offered by the psychoanalytic approach to the way that the humanistic approach explores the person as a whole, there is something to suit most types of clientele. And it is worth noting that many counselors mix and match approaches and techniques to suit the clientele. It is entirely possible, for example, for a humanistic counselor to borrow ideas from Freud about dream analysis in order to help inform the client’s understanding of their position in the here and now.

And it is also true that there are plenty of counseling approaches that are not mentioned here: some counselors pursue what is known as an existential approach, for example. It is possible to train in some of the main methods and then pick up a more niche approach alongside it. So, those considering training to be a counselor must remember that it is a diverse profession with lots of different options — and one can, to a certain extent, make it what they wish.