• A Brief History of Counseling and Guidance in Schools


    The profession of counseling is young. Whereas other established professions including teaching, medicine, and law have existed for many centuries, counseling has just passed its first century mark. In order to better understand counseling, and specifically school counseling, I will present a very brief historical synopsis of occurrences in the field.


    The roots of this profession are deeply embedded in vocational guidance. Frank Parsons is referred to as the “Father of Guidance.” At the turn of the last century, Parsons worked with young people in helping them make decisions concerning their vocations. He is best known for establishing Boston’s Vocational Bureau in 1908 and for the publication of his book, Choosing a Vocation, in 1909.


    Around the same time, Jesse B. Davis set up the first systematized guidance in public schools. In Grand Rapids, Michigan, he encouraged English teachers to use lessons and compositions that allowed students to investigate career interests, develop character, and avoid behavioral problems.


    A third foundational event for the counseling profession was Clifford Beers’ exposure of inhumane treatment of patients in mental institutions. Beers was institutionalized several times throughout his life and wrote of the deplorable conditions in a book entitled A Mind That Found Itself (1908). He advocated for better mental health facilities and reform in the treatment of mentally ill persons. His work began what is referred to as the mental health movement in the United States.


    With mental health, vocational direction, and education at the forefront of people’s minds, the time was ripe for counseling as a profession to develop. Legislators supported this thinking by passing the Smith-Hughes Act in 1917. This act of legislation provided funds for public schools to support vocational education.


    During the following decades, people continued to pay attention to mental health and education. Several journals and associations were started with an emphasis on vocational and mental health issues. The government began using assessment instruments in recruiting individuals for service. Professionals also began treating couples, families, and groups as opposed to just working with individuals.


    In 1958, the government passed the National Defense Education Act as a reaction to the launching of Sputnik I, the first space satellite, by the Russians. The purpose of this legislation was to place emphasis on the identification of students strong in math and science and to promote their development. For the field of counseling, however, this meant federal funding to train new guidance counselors as well as legislation upgrading school counseling programs.


    Since that time, the profession of counseling has continued to grow. Counselors in the school setting are charged with the responsibilities of helping students achieve their greatest potentials in areas of social, emotional, and academic development. Vocational guidance has played a significant role in the history of the profession; therefore, one will see counselors working with students to prepare and plan for students’ future careers. Interpreting assessments and guiding students to sign up for rigorous courses explains the scheduling aspects of a counselor’s responsibilities. Finally, acknowledging and working with the mental health needs of people is also a function of a professional counselor in the school setting. Although a school counselor is not able to provide the extent of treatment that a private counselor could, the school counselor is knowledgeable and able to help students and families who may need referrals to counseling outside of the school setting.




    Gladding, S. T. (2004). Counseling: A comprehensive profession (5th ed.). Columbus: Pearson.