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06 May

A Brief History of School Counseling

Counseling the History

School counseling arose as a discipline in response to the Industrial Revolution more than 100 years ago. The history of school counseling can be traced across the development of several counseling models, as educators and politicians have debated the exact nature and purpose of the school counseling profession, refining a vision of how to best help children develop personally and professionally throughout their school years.


The Services Model

From its earliest years, school counseling has been concerned with preparing students for a vocation by helping them to develop, as Charles W. Eliot, an early forerunner in the field put it, “the motive of the life career” in their studies and life.1 In the late 19th century, as the Industrial Revolution caused more families to move from an agricultural lifestyle into cities, educational methods began to change in response to the new demands on labor.

School counseling at this time was practiced with little organizational framework. Instead of dedicated school counselors, teachers would take on the services of counseling in addition to their teaching duties. These services were generally defined as orientation, assessment, information, counseling, placement and follow-up. In practice, this meant students would be oriented to the career paths available to them, assessed for their suitability for various careers, given information and counseled on how to pursue them, and placed in programs or jobs best suited to their unique skills and needs.

Social and Emotional Guidance

Until the 1960s, the primary school counseling theory underlying its practice was the services approach, with some modifications.2 In the early part of the 20th century, numerous critiques arose regarding this counseling model. First, these services were generally offered in addition to a teacher’s already full slate of duties. In addition, the work of school counselors revealed many students were suffering from personal problems such as financial stress or an unfortunate home situation, rather than simply lacking a sense of focus or purpose.

As a result, social and emotional guidance became increasingly ingrained in school counseling practice throughout the 1920s and 1930s, which worked to help students reconcile their studies and career paths with their personal challenges.

The Process Model

Midway through the 20th century, there was a growing recognition in the U.S. that vocational guidance was a discipline of its own, complementary to, but separate from, classroom instruction. This realization came to a head at the end of the 1950s, accelerated somewhat surprisingly by the launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik.

With American politicians worried the U.S. was beginning to lose its dominance in science and technology, a boom in funding for vocational and guidance counselors occurred with the hope they would help direct students into STEM fields.2 Because of the increase in funding and preparation, school counselors tripled in number from 1958 to 1967 and the role evolved from the teacher-counselors of the first half of the 20th century into a new kind of full-time counselor.

The Pupil-Personnel Model

During the second half of the 20th century, a new dominant model of school counseling arose known as the “pupil-personnel” model, which sought to apply the principles of professional personnel management to students in a school setting.2 This model de-emphasized the administrative and clerical functions of school counseling and switched the focus of the discipline from psychology to the ways that the newer fields of sociology, political science and economics impacted student progress and achievement.

“From Position to Program”

During the 1970s, another major shift occurred in the trending school counseling theories of the day. During this time, the role of school counselor was reconsidered to focus less on its position (a list of duties and goals) to the program of school counseling, a coordinated group of structured activities that would expose students to opportunities for personal, social and educational development.

This quest to refine programs to meet the needs of a diverse student body is ongoing, as changing social standards throughout the late 20th century including diversity initiatives, a new focus on gender equity, rising globalization and economic insecurity have all had significant impacts on the ways in which school counselors engage students in this evolving profession.

The Future

At the start of the 21st century, the American School Counseling Association increased its focus on developing a national school counseling model and accompanying standards for implementing wide-ranging school counseling initiatives. These include mindset and behavior standards3 and ethical guidelines meant to help guide school counselors to engage in appropriate interactions with their students.4

The greatest challenge facing school counselors now and in the future is finding ways to implement these standards and close the gap so that all students have equal access to proven techniques to help lead to happy, healthy and productive lives.


The Future of School Counseling Begins at W&M

The William & Mary School of Education prides itself at being at the forefront of the counseling profession. Consider partnering with a renowned “Public Ivy” institution to follow your calling to this meaningful vocation: Explore the Online Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Counseling with a concentration in School Counseling from W&M.


1. Retrieved on April 10, 2019, from videos.schoolcounselor.org/norman-gysbers-history-of-school-counseling
2. Retrieved on April 10, 2019, from wvde.state.wv.us/counselors/history.html
3. Retrieved on April 10, 2019, from schoolcounselor.org/asca/media/asca/home/MindsetsBehaviors.pdf
4. Retrieved on April 10, 2019, from schoolcounselor.org/asca/media/asca/Ethics/EthicalStandards2016.pdf