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Psychosocial counseling supports a person’s own efforts to further develop his or her behavioral and experiential patterns and to improve personal well-being, interaction with the relationship environment, and coping with upcoming life tasks. The focus of the consultations is on the self-determined, self-responsible as well as community-related thinking, feeling and acting of the person.

The aim of psychosocial counseling

Psychosocial counseling offers professional support in decision-making and change processes, in questions of finding meaning, in crisis processing, in clarifying conflicts, in processing feelings, thought and perception patterns, and in promoting relationship skills and awareness. The goal of psychosocial counseling is to alleviate the current pressure of suffering, to make the complicated situation manageable and to find new ways and possibilities of action for constructive solutions.

Fields and types of psychosocial counseling in distinction to other forms of relationship work

Psychosocial counseling is a service that defines its mission through a clear agreement in a formulated context. It is applied in the accompaniment of individuals, in couple and family counseling and in organizations. It is aimed at individuals and groups who manage their lives independently overall, but are looking for support on individual topics and issues, developmental problems and life crises. In doing so, it offers support for reflection, orientation, planning, decision-making and action, works in a resource-oriented manner and has a preventive, problem-solving and developmental effect.

It differs from other counseling formats in that it focuses on people’s concerns in their social context. She works on the content, process, and goals for which the client is seeking counseling. Compared to medicine and psychotherapy, it offers help and support, not a cure, but the development of skills in various areas. Psychosocial counseling therefore looks at the problems of its clientele from the perspective of experiences of conflict and disorientation and how to overcome them, rather than from the perspective of concepts of illness.

Understanding of consulting

  1. Counseling/Counseling is agreed-upon support for individuals, groups, or organizations in a formulated context. Self-determined, self-responsible as well as community-oriented thinking, feeling and acting of a person, respectively the functional development of an organization are the main concern of consulting.
  2. Counseling/Counselling offers professional support in decision-making and change processes, in questions of finding meaning, in crisis processing, in clarifying conflicts, in processing feelings, thought and perception patterns, in promoting relationship skills and awareness.
  3. Counseling/Counselling is a service that defines its mission through a clear agreement. The fields of activity of consulting are manifold: their focus is person-, task- or context-related.

The definition of psychosocial counseling

Horst-Eberhard Richter provided the first definition of the term in his 1978 book Engaged Analyses. In which he writes: “Psychosocial counseling sees the person in his or her entire psychosocial context, entangled in inner conflicts as well as in social difficulties with partners and reference groups in the private sphere and in the world of work.”

In 2003, the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Beratungswesen defined the format in a detailed presentation as follows: “It (psychosocial counseling) deals with different developmental tasks and multifactorially determined problem and conflict situations on a theory-guided basis.”(…) “In the dialogically designed process, which is directed towards the development of action competencies, the clarification, the processing of emotions and the change of problem-causing structural conditions, achievable goals are to be defined and reflected decisions are to be made, plans of action are to be designed, which meet the needs, The aim is to identify and use personal, social, organizational and environmental resources in order to achieve self-imposed goals or to fulfill tasks, and to provide support in dealing with stresses that cannot be eliminated or resolved.”

Development and differentiation of psychosocial counseling

The first counseling services emerged in Central Europe in the 1920s. In Switzerland, for example, dedicated teachers began to help young people choose a career. Advice was also offered on parenting and partnership issues. It primarily had an educational function and conveyed knowledge about areas of life in which traditional experiences and knowledge no longer corresponded to current social and economic conditions.

After World War 2 and especially in the 1960s, a wide range of counseling services developed. This also applies to psychosocial counseling. She began to take on tasks for different age and target groups.

Age and target groups:

  • Drug and alcohol addicts
  • Victims of violence and abuse
  • Homeless
  • Grieving
  • Couples, families, teenagers, elderly
  • Women, men, etc.

And she took care of people in special demand and problem situations and their questions too:

  • Education
  • Sexuality
  • Coping with life
  • Education
  • Interculturality, migration
  • Health
  • Conflicts
  • Separation, divorce
  • Debts etc.

Psychosocial counseling was provided by professionals who had the necessary knowledge of the clients’ problem area. Health counseling was provided by nurses, educational counseling by educators, and couples and family counseling by social workers. However, in addition to their field expertise, these professionals began to use knowledge and methods relevant to counseling. They transferred knowledge about the beneficial design of relationships, communication, learning and change processes from new psychological and pedagogical approaches to their specific counseling work, for example from A. Adler from 1920 or C. Rogers from 1940.

It became apparent that clients often do not benefit sufficiently from factual information alone with regard to their concerns. Counselors began to increasingly use a repertoire of actions with which they could accompany clients in their process and thus increase the effectiveness of counseling. This had established the dual location of psychosocial counseling that is still valid today.

The consultants:inside have:

  • Counseling and interaction skills (knowledge and skills in communication, development and change, counseling methodology, etc.)
  • Competence specific to the field of action (knowledge and skills on the problem situation: e.g. on education, on shaping life phases and transitions, couple and family dynamics, drug addiction, etc.)

Theoretical foundations of psychosocial counseling

Since counseling competencies have been applied in various fields of work from the very beginning (including education, social work, pastoral care, medicine), their theoretical foundations have been fed by these disciplines themselves, in addition to those from psychological schools and concepts. In addition, significant influences came from sciences outside the fields of practice, for example from anthropology (cf. Gregory Bateson on communication), sociology (cf. Niklas Luhmann on social systems), or neuroscience (cf. Antonio Damasio, Gerald Hüther, Manfred Spitzer on brain development, learning, and decision-making processes). The concepts and practice of contemporary psychosocial counseling are therefore interdisciplinary in nature.

Counseling approaches and counseling concepts of psychosocial counseling

An advisory approach (or process) is understood to be a sufficiently consistent, comprehensive, detailed, clearly articulated, reasoned approach to action that has achieved a certain level of dissemination. The variety of procedures today is great. This has a lot to do with the fact that people and their social environments are diverse and thus also very differently responsive. Learning and change processes can be initiated and supported in many different ways. This pluralism makes it difficult to assess the quality of individual consulting approaches, which necessitates cross-approach standards. At the same time, diversity is desirable because it allows counselors to bring their specific competencies to bear while flexibly supporting clients in different ways. It has therefore become accepted in recent years that well-trained counselors should know and be able to apply a specific procedure thoroughly and, in addition, develop an individual concept for their specific offerings, on the basis of which they design and reflect on their work. This concept is based on the “tree of science”, which calls for the exposition and reflection of the following levels of abstraction:


Image of man, ethics, epistemology, basic questions in the theory of science, etc.


Development, learning, illness/health, communication, decision dynamics, conflict and conflict resolution, general. Counseling theory, etc.


Understanding change and learning, counseling process, forms of intervention, relationship building, etc.


Settings, understanding of roles, inventory of methods, evaluation, quality assurance, etc.

Future perspectives of psychosocial counseling

Counseling has become a need and a necessity for many in numerous areas of our individualized and pace-driven society (cf. Nestmann and Engel). Because psychosocial counseling provides an offer of help, the market that has emerged requires regulation that ensures the professional quality and diligence of providers. An important step towards this goal was the founding of the Swiss Society for Counseling (SGfB) in 2006, which, as an umbrella organization, sets and reviews quality standards for training and the professional activities of psychosocial counselors. Thus, a new comprehensive quality label was created, which has a clarifying and regulating effect on the market with its offers.

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