Counseling Types – Description, Pediatric Considerations, Epidemiology, Treatment



  • Psychotherapeutic and counseling interventions play an important role in the management of chronic- and acute-onset diseases and disorders. They are typically the primary initial mode of evaluation and/or treatment for most mild-to-moderate psychiatric disorders that reach criteria using the DSM or ICD diagnostic classification systems. Treatment and successful control of either medical or psychological conditions require some form of professional counseling experience. Best outcomes occur when they are employed by a skilled practitioner. However, psychotherapy differs from generic counseling, which can take many forms and is delivered commonly in nonmedical settings with mixed results.
  • Counseling approaches are usually tailored to the specific presenting problem or issue, and serve educational and emotional support functions. Typically, such counseling in medical settings will be time-limited and problem-focused, and is often not intended to lead to major medical symptom relief or major behavioral changes.
  • The goals of psychotherapy range from increasing individual psychological insight and motivation for change, reduction of interpersonal conflict in the marriage or family, reduction of chronic or acute emotional suffering, and reversal of dysfunctional or habitual behaviors. There are several general types of psychotherapy, starting with individual, marital, or family approaches. In addition, a number of psychological theories guide various methods and treatment philosophies. The following is a brief overview of commonly used psychotherapeutic and counseling methods.
  • Psychodynamic therapy: Unconscious conflict manifests as patient’s symptoms/problem behaviors:
    • Short-term (4–6 mo) and long-term (1 yr+)
    • Focus is on increasing insight of underlying conflict to initiate symptomatic change.
    • Therapist actively helps patient identify patterns of behavior stemming from existence of an unconscious conflict.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): Patterns of thoughts and behaviors can lead to development and/or maintenance of symptoms. Thought patterns may not accurately reflect reality and may lead to psychological distress:
    • Therapy aims at modifying thought patterns by increasing cognitive flexibility and changing dysfunctional behavioral patterns.
    • Encourages patient self-monitoring
    • Uses therapist-assisted challenges to patient’s basic beliefs/assumptions
    • May utilize exposure, a procedure derived from basic learning theories
    • Can be offered in group or individual formats
    • Therapist role is suggestive and supportive.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): Techniques such as social skills training, mindfulness, and problem solving are used to modulate impulse control and affect management:
    • Derivative of CBT
    • Originally used in treatment of patients with self-destructive behaviors (e.g., cutting, suicide attempts)
    • Seeks to change rigid patterns of cognitions and behaviors that have been maladaptive
    • Utilizes both individual and group treatment modalities
    • Therapist takes an active role in interpretation and support.
  • Interpersonal psychotherapy: Interpersonal relationships in a patient’s life are linked to symptoms. Therapy seeks to alleviate symptoms and improve social adjustment through exploration of patients’ relationships and experiences. Focus is on 1 of 4 potential problem areas:
    • Grief
    • Interpersonal role disputes
    • Role transitions
    • Interpersonal deficits: Therapist works with the patient in resolving the problematic interpersonal issues to facilitate change in symptoms
  • Family therapy: Focuses on the family as a unit of intervention:
    • Uses psychoeducation to increase patient’s and family’s insight
    • Trains in communication and problem-solving skills
  • Motivational interviewing: Focuses on motivation as a key to successful change process:
    • Short term
    • Focuses on identifying discrepancies between goals and behavior
    • “5 A’s” model is a brief counseling framework developed specifically for physicians to effect behavioral change in patients:
      • Assess for a problem.
      • Advise making a change.
      • Agree on action to be taken.
      • Assist with self-care support to make the change.
      • Arrange follow-up to support the change.
  • Counseling (heterogeneous treatment):
    • Often focuses on situational factors maintaining symptoms
    • Often encourages utilization of community resources
  • Behavioral therapy: Relatively nontheoretical approach to behavioral change or symptom reduction/eradication through application of principles of stimulus and response

Psychotherapy, Cognitive behavioral therapy, Mental health, Mental disorder, Interpersonal relationship, Depression, treatment philosophies, interpersonal conflict,

Pediatric Considerations

  • Important distinctions are made between psychotherapy and counseling for children/teens compared to adults/couples.
  • The focus of evaluation must include attention to parent and family processes and factors. Interventions typically include interactions and sessions with parents, as well as collateral work with teachers and other school personnel.
  • Younger children will often be evaluated and diagnosed through behavioral descriptions provided by parents and other adults who know them well, as well as through direct observation and/or play techniques. Children of all ages should be screened using behavioral checklists that are norm-referenced for age.
  • Any child or teenager who requests counseling should be interviewed initially by the primary care provider and referred appropriately. Most referrals will be in response to parental request, however.
  • Psychotherapeutic interventions with the strongest empirical basis with children include behavior therapy/modification, CBT, and family/parenting therapy. Play therapy has the least empirical support, and insight-oriented therapies appear to be more effective with older children (>11 years).
  • There is controversy regarding the efficacy of psychopharmacologic treatment in preadolescents, although clear benefits have been demonstrated in some studies. Treatment guidelines for mild-to-moderate depressed mood and/or anxiety disorders typically recommend pediatric CBT initially, and studies have supported this approach.


  • ∼18.8 million adults suffer from clinical depression, and 20 million suffer from a diagnosable anxiety disorder.
  • 1 in 4 Americans report seeking some form of mental health treatment in their adult life. This includes generic counseling in nonmedical settings such as work, clergy, or school settings, but also includes visits to primary care providers. It is estimated that between 3.5% and 5% of adults in the US actually participate in formal mental health psychotherapy annually.
  • Public health experts report that the majority of those adults with diagnosable psychiatric disorders, however, do not receive professional mental health services. This is due to multiple factors, including failure to identify, noncompliance with psychiatric referral, regional shortages of providers, economic barriers, and excessive time duration from referral to available service.
  • A large study conducted between 1987 and 1997 concluded that the percentage of adults in psychotherapy remained relatively stable over that decade, the use of psychopharmacology doubled, and older adults (ages 55–64) increasingly sought psychotherapy services. In that same study, it was found that psychotherapy duration (number of sessions) decreased substantially and about 1/3 of psychotherapy patients only attended 1 or 2 sessions.

Risk Factors

The need for psychotherapy or counseling services is directly and indirectly associated with a host of socioeconomic and biogenetic factors, including the general effects of poverty, family or marital dysfunction, life stressors, medical diseases or conditions, and individual biologic predisposition to mental health disorders.

General Prevention

It is generally assumed that early identification and intervention of child and adolescent psychopathology increases the likelihood of reducing the risk for adult psychopathology, but this has not been sufficiently validated in all categories of psychological disorders. Data support such claims in disorders such as childhood attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety disorders, and habit disorders of childhood, however.



  • Psychotherapy is most likely to be accompanied by use of pharmaceutical adjuncts in moderate-to-severe cases of psychological dysfunction that do not respond to other therapies, or in cases of extremely poor quality of life or high risk. The most common examples are in cases of clinical depression or anxiety that clearly incapacitates the patient or significantly reduces their quality of life. Patients at risk for suicide or who represent a danger to others are also candidates for acute psychopharmacotherapy. Studies suggest that verbal and behaviorally oriented therapies can add efficacy to medication treatment in both depression and anxiety.
  • There is controversy in the research field regarding the efficacy of medication alone vs psychotherapy alone vs combined treatments. The most recent consensus has been that combined treatments in moderate-to-severe psychological dysfunction are most likely to render positive short-term results and increase the likelihood such effects can be sustained over time.

Additional Treatment

General Measures

There is evidence of a “dose effect” in psychotherapy outcomes research, with some investigators suggesting that 6–8 sessions are necessary to yield positive initial effects, and upwards of 15–20 sessions for longer-term, sustainable therapeutic effects. This dose effect may not be applicable to counseling services with primarily informational or emotional/supportive functions.

Support's development and hosting

Additional Therapies

  • Anxiety disorders:
    • Panic disorder with and without agoraphobia (1)[A]: CBT, psychodynamic therapy
    • Generalized anxiety disorder: CBT (2)[A]
    • Obsessive-compulsive disorder: CBT (3)[A]
    • Post-traumatic stress disorder: CBT
    • Specific phobia: CBT
    • Social phobia: CBT (4)[A]
  • Mood disorders:
    • Unipolar depression: CBT, interpersonal therapy, psychodynamic therapy (5)[A]
    • Bipolar disorder: Family therapy, interpersonal therapy, CBT
    • Schizophrenia: Psychodynamic therapy, family therapy, CBT
  • Eating disorders:
    • Binge eating disorder: CBT, interpersonal therapy
    • Bulimia nervosa: CBT, interpersonal therapy
  • Personality disorders:
    • Borderline: DBT, CBT
  • Substance-use disorders:
    • Alcohol: Counseling, CBT, motivational interviewing
    • Cocaine: CBT, counseling
    • Heroin: CBT, counseling
    • Smoking: 5 A’s
  • Somatoform disorders:
    • Hypochondriasis: CBT
    • Body dysmorphic disorder: CBT

Complementary and Alternative Medicine

A host of nonempirically based psychological and nutritional therapies can be found outside of mainstream medicine and psychological science. Very little or no evidence exists to support such experimental therapies, but all have the considerable power of the placebo effect fueling their anecdotal supports or claims. Placebo effects are also thought to be further enhanced by the use of ingested or applied substances that create perceived or real physiologic changes in the patient.


1. Furukawa TA, et al. Combined psychotherapy plus antidepressants for panic disorder with or without agoraphobia.Cochrane Database Sys Rev. 2007;2:CD004364.

2. Hunot V, et al. Psychological therapies for generalized anxiety disorder. Cochrane Database Sys Rev. 2007;2.

3. Eddy KT, Dutra L, Bradley R, et al. A multidimensional meta-analysis of psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder. Clin Psychol Rev. 2004;24:1011–30.

4. Rodebaugh TL, Holaway RM, Heimberg RG. The treatment of social anxiety disorder. Clin Psychol Rev. 2004;24:883–908.

5. Bortolotti B, Menchetti M, Bellini F, et al. Psychological interventions for major depression in primary care: a meta-analytic review of randomized controlled trials. Gen Hosp Psychiatry.2008;30:293–302.



  • V65.49 Other specified counseling
  • V65.8 Other reasons for seeking consultation


409063005 Counseling (procedure)

Clinical Pearls

  • Combined medication and psychotherapeutic treatments in moderate-to-severe psychological dysfunction are most likely to render positive short-term results and increase the likelihood such effects can be sustained over time. Relapse is common over time and/or as treatments are discontinued.
  • There is evidence of a “dose effect” in psychotherapy outcomes research, with some investigators suggesting that 6–8 sessions are necessary to yield positive initial effects, and upwards of 15–20 sessions for longer-term, sustainable therapeutic effects. This dose effect may not be applicable to counseling services with primarily informational or emotional/supportive functions. Since many patients cease attendance to psychotherapy sessions after one or a few sessions, most interventions of this type cannot be accurately evaluated by the referring provider.

About the author

Many tips are based on recent research, while others were known in ancient times. But they have all been proven to be effective. So keep this website close at hand and make the advice it offers a part of your daily life.