By Eleanor Beeslaar, HRI Graduate Assistant

When you hear the recommendation to seek counseling as a source of support, the first thing you may be wondering is, what exactly is counseling, and what do counselors do?

Counseling promotes self-growth by providing a safe space for individuals, couples, and families to better understand themselves, others, and the world around them. Counselors aim to create a warm and open space where clients feel comfortable sharing problems and difficult emotions they may be facing. According to the American Counseling Association (ACA), professional counselors use a collaborative approach and work with clients to understand their concerns and goals for the counseling process (ACA, 2018). The counselor and client work together to 1) identify potential solutions to problems that cause emotional distress; 2) identify the client’s goals; 3) improve communication, problem solving, and coping skills; 3) strengthen self-esteem; and 4) promote behavior change and optimal mental health (ACA, 2018).

To learn more about counseling, check out this video from the American Counseling Association:

You may also be wondering about the difference is between individual, couple, and family counseling.

Individual counseling involves a relationship between the counselor and an individual client. Within the counseling relationship, clients have the opportunity to explore personal struggles or concerns with the support and guidance of the counselor. The counselor and client work together to understand the client’s problems and work through difficult emotions. Individual counseling provides a space for clients to experience personal growth and develop skills as they navigate life challenges (ACA, 2018).

Couples counseling provides an opportunity for couples to work through challenges with the added support of a counselor who has a specialized skill set to address these challenges within the relationship. Couples counselors are qualified to work with couples to explore conflicts and concerns, while helping them develop skills to enhance communication and problem solving within the relationship (ACA, 2018).

Family counseling involves a relationship between a counselor and the family system. Families often seek counseling after life changes or transitional periods, which can create stress and negatively affect family functioning, communication, or structure (ACA, 2018). Common issues that are addressed during family counseling are parenting, sibling conflict, the loss of a family member, or major changes that affect the family system, such as a big move (ACA, 2018). Family counseling creates an opportunity for families to work through challenges or transitions and to strengthen relationships between family members, while developing skills, such as communication, to improve overall family functioning.


American Counseling Association. (2018). What is Professional Counseling? Retrieved from


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