The Individualism Impasse in Counselling Psychology

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This paper argues that counselling psychology has been shaped by the philosophical and cultural value of individualism. Counselling psychology’s reliance on individual therapy models hinders its potential to actively address social issues that cause or exacerbate many mental health problems. The history and role of UK stale-funded individual therapy markets, which employ a significant proportion of counselling psychologists, is examined. Some origins and consequences of counselling psychology’s individualistic ideals are explored. The professionalisation of personal therapy in the UK is traced to the USA and the development of humanistic psychology in the mid-20th century. Humanistic ideals are traced back further, to the 18th and 19th century rhetoric of New World democracy. Some undesirable social consequences of individualism are highlighted. In comparison the paper looks at potentially ‘post-individualistic’ therapeutic philosophies, including feminist and social constructionist approaches but finds that, in practice, they also tend to operate as individual therapy models. Conclusions: Individual therapy approaches help people cope with conditions arising from the socioeconomic status quo, but don't necessarily challenge it. Evolving counselling psychology research and practice into more demonstrably socially transformative ways of working would require substantive, and probably unpopular, changes in training, regulation, career pathways and professional identity.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)44-53
Number of pages9
JournalCounselling Psychology Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 20 Mar 2017