Definition of “Counseling” Approved by NCDA Board

By Judith Hoppin

In 2010 the NCDA Board approved the following definition of counseling:


Counseling is a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education and career goals.”


At the ACA conference in 2010, delegates reached consensus on the common definition of counseling after a year long exchange of email and a Delphi process that whittled down the many possibilities to a 21 word definition. During the 2010 meeting, many delegates struggled to see where their specialties fit in the definition. Everyone who wished to comment or make a suggestion was heard. After some re-writing, consensus was reached. In addition, it was agreed that each organization, if desired, could preface this common definition with an emphasis that it could embrace.


History and Process

Since 2005 delegates representing 30 major, diverse counseling organizations met to take part in the American Counseling Association’s 20/20 Vision for the Future of Counseling task force. Many of the delegates represented divisions of ACA. As NCDA’s delegate to this group, I participated from 2005 to 2010. This task force was charged with proactively planning for the future of the counseling profession for the next decade. One of the goals was to define who counselors are apart from other professions for the purposes of marketing, advocacy and public and government recognition.


When reporting on the agreed-upon definition, I heard a few comments about “career” goals being stated last. My response is that I think that career goals are mentioned at the end for a very good reason. Leaders, experts and practitioners in our field agree that career development and career counseling is personal. We certainly assist individuals with their educational goals. We address their mental health issues when uncertain employment, job transitions, changing career goals, and job loss impact individuals and families. As consultants we address employee morale and survivor guilt in organizations. We suggest and teach wellness strategies for coping with the impact of these major life events. In my opinion, career goals are at the end because our practice encompasses all the other parts of the definition.


For more information about the writing of the definition and comments from some of the task force members go to the American Counseling Association website and type in Definition of Counseling in the search box.


Seven Principles for the Future

In addition to the definition of counseling, early on the 20/20 task force agreed on seven principles that will determine future action steps. They are:


  1. Sharing a common professional identity is critical for counselors

  2. Presenting ourselves as a unified profession has multiple benefits

  3. Working together to improve the public perception of counseling and to advocate for professional issues will strengthen the profession

  4. Creating a portability system for licensure will benefit counselors and strengthen the counseling profession.

  5. Expanding and promoting our research base is essential to the efficacy of professional counselors and to the public perception of the profession.

  6. Focusing on students and prospective students is necessary to ensure the ongoing health of the counseling profession.

  7. Promoting client welfare and advocating for the populations we serve is a primary focus of the counseling profession.


The 20/20 Vision task force is to be congratulated on the most difficult task of coming to consensus on this definition and these principles.




Judy HoppinJudith Hoppin was the NCDA President in 2008-2009. She is an NCDA Fellow and CDF Master Trainer. Judith Hoppin is retired as the Executive Director of Professional Development and Education Outreach in the School of Education and Human Services at Oakland University (OU) in Michigan. She can be reached at jhoppin@comcast.net 

Printer-Friendly Version


Dr Peter McIlveen on Monday 08/01/2011 at 08:33PM wrote:

Congratulations NCDA. The new definition of counseling is an important milestone. There are far reaching implications for this definition, even for counseling in Australia. I shall be sure to share this news with my colleagues "down under".

Lyn Barham on Tuesday 08/02/2011 at 05:19AM wrote:

I echo the congratulatory message just posted by Peter. I have circulated this definition, and the important statement of principles, here in the UK as we work our way towards closer alignment between professional bodies concerned with career development.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the opinions of this organization.