Six Reasons Counseling Theory Is Important

Counseling theories are extremely important to counseling professionals. Although master’s programs in counseling include courses on counseling theories, they may fail to explain why theory is important. This series of posts will begin with a explanation of the importance of theory, followed by posts on individual theories, including Gestalt, Solution Focused and Cognitive Behavioral.

For those of you who don’t know, I am a Doctoral Candidate and Teaching Assistant in the Counselor Education program at the University of South Florida, a large and well-respected public university. As I open the book we are using for our Counseling Theories class this semester, I can’t help but notice that it lacks a section explaining why theory is important. I find this to be odd. If we are going to spend an entire semester studying something, then wouldn’t it be important to explain why? And if our textbook is missing that section, how many other textbooks are also missing it? Which leads me to suspect that this topic is not being discussed.

Therefore, I am writing this post to help fill in that missing information. If you understand why something is important, not only will you be more motivated to understand it, but you will also be able to put your new knowledge into proper context. Hopefully this post will help you absorb more information from your theories classes. So, here are six reasons theory is important:

  1. Theory gives a framework for integrity between understanding, interpretation and, ultimately, action. Consistency and integrity are important in order to achieve goals in the most efficient and effective way. If we don’t have a consistent framework to view the client’s issue through, then how can we go about helping them address it in the most efficient way?
  2. Theory is like a metaphor: a succinct way of conceptualizing a problem or situation, yet broadening understanding at the same time. Theory provides generalizations that not only clarify our understanding but may lead us to similar conclusions about other situations. In this way, theory creates knowledge.
  3. Theory helps inexperienced counselors by serving as a “road map.” Novice counselors can rely on theory to provide direction and help ensure they will be effective with clients. Theory also helps more experienced counselors by facilitating their integration of self and external knowledge.
  4. Theory is the conduit for research. If we didn’t have a theory, we wouldn’t have anything to test, so we couldn’t do research. Without research, we would have to rely solely on clinical observations to determine effective interventions. Therefore, we would have no objective means by which to test our subjective observations.
  5. Theory is how humans master nature. To really understand why you are doing something, you must have thought realistically and thoroughly (Rousseau, 1968). To do otherwise is akin to driving about blindly; like driving your car with the lights off. You may accomplish your task, but you probably won’t. Without theory, we are driving blind when we try to help clients.
  6. Action in counseling must be immediate, under circumstances that may be somewhat unforeseen, complicated, and new. But we don’t have to have all the answers. By utilizing theory we can draw upon the experiences of others that have gone before us (Whitehead, 1916).

Rousseau, H.J. (1968). The impact of educational theory on teachers. British Journal of Education Studies, 16(1), 60-71.
Whitehead, A.N. (1916). The organization of thought. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 17, 58-76.