The importance of psychological theories in modern mental health counseling

More people are understanding the importance of providing quality mental health services to people of all backgrounds. Good mental health makes a society stronger, happier, and more productive. People having a healthy mental outlook also tend to enjoy better physical health.

Counselors rely on their extensive training to provide the emotional support and guidance people need to overcome and deal with everything from everyday stress and pressure to major emotional disorders and trauma.

The importance of psychological theories in modern mental health counseling
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Psychoanalytic theory

Counselors use psychoanalytic theory to discover the thinking patterns and thought processes that clients are having and how they contribute to the mental health issues they are experiencing. Getting to the root cause of problems is the goal of counseling and therapy. Negative thoughts or thought patterns that are shaped by the traumas a patient has experienced must be changed for patients to begin to heal and find ways to lead more satisfying lives.

Interpersonal and social theory

Interactions between two individuals are the basis of interpersonal psychology. During counseling sessions, a counselor may ask many questions about relationships, especially those closest to you. The depth of this analysis depends on what issues and feelings arise during the session. For example, a counselor may find a patient is having trouble with a controlling parent or partner, leading to stress and confrontations.

Social theory examines how individuals act and respond to others in their social circle or community. It looks at how individuals see themselves within a group and how they think others feel about them. A counselor uses this theory to see if a patient is experiencing any issues with social anxiety, self-confidence, image, etc. In some cases, a counselor may help a patient examine if the social relationships they expose themselves to are healthy for them and, if not, how to make changes and form meaningful and not harmful friendships.

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Behaviorist theory

While it is true that everyone is different, there are some things that we have in common, so it comes as no surprise that some distinct personality types can be used to describe most of the population broadly. Getting an idea of what personality type a person has is useful because it gives a counselor a general idea of how the person might think, feel, and respond in various situations.

Humanistic approach

This approach to personality types is based on the theory that a person’s overall personality is heavily dependent on who and what they believe they are. It means that we have a lot of control over our personalities in some ways, but they can also be honed by others because how we see ourselves and believe ourselves to be is often heavily influenced by those close to us. For example, if your parents regularly tell you that you can achieve anything you put your mind to, you might develop a more confident personality type than someone who is often discouraged from trying things.

Trait theories

It is based on the idea that our personality is a mesh of all the dominant traits we have. Some believe that these traits are genetic on at least some level, but this is controversial since it is also very likely that a parent with a specific trait is likely to teach the same to their child.

Social cognitive theories

There are several types of social cognitive theories to consider.


This theory states that human behavior and personality are largely determined by the prospect of reward or punishment. We are more likely to participate in behaviors that reward us than those that cause us unhappiness or inconvenience. Why does the individual feel there is a benefit to making that choice? Counselors can use this theory to help assess why someone keeps doing a specific behavior or making a choice. An easy example of this is substance abuse. A person makes a choice to use a substance because it makes them feel better than if they were not using it, or in extreme cases, because it simply keeps them from being incredibly ill from withdrawal.

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Social learning theory

The theory of social learning is definitely linked with behaviorism, but expands on it to include the belief that the way a person thinks about something defines whether or not something is a reward or punishment. For example, one person may really like to garden, whereas another may see working in a garden all day as highly unpleasant and unrewarding.

Mental health counselors are in high demand

There is a strong demand for mental health counselors for many reasons. More people than ever have come to understand that counseling is something many people can benefit from, no matter what they might be going through.

The COVID-19 pandemic and other societal factors have led to more mental health issues arising in people of all ages. In addition, substance abuse and addiction are more problematic than ever before.

Now is a great time to consider an online master’s in clinical mental health counseling. American International College offers a program that can be completed in as little as two years. If you prefer to take longer, you can get your degree in just over three years as a part-time student. American International College offers placement services that allow you to complete the required clinical hours to become a certified counselor and take your career to the next level.


Counselors have a lot of tools to help them guide patients through complex issues and traumas or find ways to have a healthier mental outlook and handle daily stresses better.

Different psychological theories help form a strong basis for counselors to get a feel for what exactly is driving the problems that a patient is facing.

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