How To Use Theoretical Orientation In Counseling | BetterHelp (2023)

Theoretical orientation is important for both the counselor and the client. Every mind is different, and everyone responds differently to different forms of therapy. A counselor may be good with one form of psychotherapy but not so great with the other. On the other hand, a client may not care for one therapy but will respond greatly to another. We're going to dive deeper into the world of theoretical orientation and break it down throughout this article, especially in terms of helpfulness and information for online therapy sessions.

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What Is Theoretical Orientation?

Theoretical orientation involves a customized approach to how a counselor best serves their client. It is an organized set of assumptions or preferences (based on specific psychological theories) that provide the clinician with a conceptual framework for identifying the client’s needs and which specific interventions will work best to treat them. Every client is different and reacts to different treatments, and theoretical orientation is there to help the counselor take responsibility in finding the best method to tackle their client's problems.

When counselors use theoretical orientation, it typically involves the counselor getting to know the person, and, over time, the counselor may deploy a few techniques to see which of the approaches will help the most.

There are many types of theoretical orientations, such as the interactionist method, multimodal, object-relations, person-centered, ecological, and developmental. Learning which orientation works best for you is essential to the success of your treatment.

In other words, the theoretical orientation is the counselor's preferred therapy method or tool for understanding their client's perspectives. When seeking a counselor, asking what their theoretical orientation is can be a productive question as there are many types of orientations in psychology.

A List Of Therapies

Theoretical orientation uses quite a few therapies. These therapies can be classic, stemming from the beginning of modern psychology (such as psychoanalytic theory/therapy), to more contemporary, like solution-focused or strength-based therapy. Furthermore, each option is based on a specific theory of psychology and offers specific interventions or conceptual frameworks for which to treat clients. Some people will respond well to some therapies but not others. Let’s take a look at these theories below.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is one of the most common and popular theories/therapies on this list. With CBT, it's believed that the client's beliefs and actions are the main challenges in a client’s situation. To apply CBT techniques, a counselor will have to figure out what behaviors and beliefs are unhelpful and then challenge the client to change them or make some adjustments to their ideas.

The client may have to record their behaviors in a journal, tracking down the patterns of thoughts and emotions as they occur, and figure out what situations will cause them to have an episode. When they report to the counselor, they can figure out how to handle the behaviors whenever they arise through their newfound understanding of their own perspective.

It's safe to say that everyone has behaviors that can be self-destructive, and if your behaviors are out of control, CBT can help.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

DBT is similar to CBT and uses a lot of its techniques but instead of concentrating on their unhelpful behaviors, it instead looks at a client's self-awareness, emotion regulation, distress levels, and much more. It was originally a treatment for BPD, or borderline personality disorder, but you can apply it to other mental issues too.

Family Counseling

Also known as family therapy, this involves the entire family. By family, this can mean children, caregivers, entire families, or just couples, and they are all considered the counselor's client. With family counseling, it can be a separate job or involve talking to all the family at once to determine what the relational conflicts are in this family systems unit. A counselor can learn a great deal from observing the interactions between family . Whether it's a bickering couple or parents trying to reach out to their unruly child, family counseling can help further the development of healthy skills within a family.

Feminist Counseling

This orientation looks at the world through a feminist lens but isn’t just limited to a person's sex or gender identity. Instead, a counselor may look at how a person's ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and age play a part of their life experience.

Gestalt Therapy (GT)

GT involves the here and now. This goes by many names, such as mindfulness, and its job is to help the client be more aware of their present behaviors and feelings, with the goal being how they affect the world around them. GT is a good therapy system to have when the client is too focused on the experiences of the past or future. Sometimes, you just have to look at the world around you to find the answers.

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Optimistic Therapy

Also known as humanistic therapy, this is focused on the good parts of life. Clinicians who use optimistic therapy believe that humans want to be satisfied and self-fulfilled, and the goal is for the client to feel that. Counselors may use techniques like self-actualization and open-ended responses to discern the goals the clients want. Everyone has a dream, and while optimistic therapy may not be able to reach every dream, it can create other goals to make the person feel accomplished.

Integrative Therapy (IT)

IT can involve a number of therapies depending on the client and their needs. The counselor may combine techniques or use them separately, depending on the situation.

Narrative Therapy (NT)

We all have imagined our lives to be like a book, a movie, or whatever narrative-driven form of media you prefer. NT involves looking at someone's life as a story and, through that story, what problems may be uncovered. Therapists guide the client in retelling their story to minimize or eliminate the importance of the problems and make new stories. The counselor may act like an interviewer, asking questions about the person's life, and in doing so help the client create their role in their story with their own words.


Also known as insight-oriented, this looks at how our unconscious minds control us. The unconscious mind contains hidden traumas and feelings, and it can influence our behavior. Psychodynamic therapy helps to bring this behavior to the forefront of our minds and give us self-awareness. Psychodynamic therapy is also short and very structural in nature. Sometimes, it can only take a handful of weekly sessions for success, though this will vary dependent on the individual client.


Also known as psychoanalytic therapy or psychoanalytic theory, this is similar to psychodynamics, but it's more long-term and ends up being more intense. Like psychodynamic therapy, psychoanalytic theory focuses on the unconscious and tends to involve childhood trauma. There is immense focus on the past and how it affects the present moment, including one’s current well-being and current relationships. If a client is interested in taking a deep dive into their past in order to build a happier and better future, then psychoanalytic theory/therapy may be the best option for them.

The client will have to provide all the details they can to the therapist or clinician, from dreams to what they're feeling during the day. The counselor will then listen and provide insight. It's another good therapy for self-awareness.

How To Choose The Orientation That's Right For Me If I'm a Counselor?

If you're going into the therapy field, you may wonder which orientation would be best for you. As you may have guessed, there is no concrete answer. A counselor may be excellent in one orientation and not so great the other.

The best answer is to study each one objectively and incorporate each idea into your studies. Don't go into a field just because you have an associate who likes it. Don't go into an orientation just because you read a book about the orientation and agreed with its concepts. Study and practice are two of the best ways to choose the orientation that's best for you. Your orientation may change or become integrated with other modalities as you learn more and become more experienced.

For The Clients

If you're trying to find therapy, you may wonder which path is the best for you to take. Many factors influence a good therapy session, whether it's offline oronline, including how you and the therapist interact. It is important that you as a client feel that you have rapport and trust in your therapist and also that the techniques that they are using with you are creating progress.

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Luckily, BetterHelp offers a wide variety of counselors so that you can find the person and setup that is correct for you. In addition, research to date has shown that remote therapy is just as effective as in-person therapy for treating post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety, among many other mental health issues. The New York Times notes that online therapy’s and successful outcomes are a few reasons behind its growing popularity.

In addition, consider that with so many psychologists available on BetterHelp, you have plenty of options to find which therapy style or type works best for you. Online options are often cheaper, in a transactional way, than traditional therapy options as well. Here are some recent reviews of BetterHelp’s counselors to guide you:

“Finding Cecile was a godsend! She is very professional. I don't feel any judgement from her. Cecile offers a wide range of different therapeutic styles to match me. She responds in a timely manner, is respectful, kind, and overall a great therapist to have. I recommend her to everyone. If you are struggling and need someone who will listen to you, be patient with your progress, and be dependable she is the best match for you! :)”

“Stephanie’s style and approach to counseling fits my needs 100 percent. I feel very validated, understood, and heard every session. She genuinely listens to what you’re saying and takes her time to respond appropriately. Which I appreciate so much. She’s not just there to tell you to meditate and do some breathing techniques while envisioning a calming tree, ya know? Stephanie is down to earth, realistic, and genuinely cares. I love working with her.”

The mind is complex and there is no one therapy or rationale to satisfy that unique experience of each client. Your life is different than another person's, and, thus, you may need a unique orientation. Be patient with the process of connecting with the right therapist and technique and know that whomever you connect with has your best interests and self-growth at heart.

Commonly Asked Questions:

  1. What is an example of a theoretical orientation?
  2. What are the five theoretical orientations?
  3. What is the most common theoretical orientation?
  4. What is theoretical orientation in education?
  5. Why is theoretical orientation important?
  6. Is CBT a theoretical orientation?
  7. What are the 7 main theories of psychology?
  8. What does a theoretical approach mean?
  9. What s theoretical orientation in sociology?
  10. What are theoretical orientations in social psychology?


What is your theoretical orientation to counseling? ›

Theoretical orientation in counseling essentially refers to what concepts or perspectives a mental health professional uses to assess, understand, and treat their clients. Any theory that a mental health provider uses to guide their practice is their theoretical orientation.

What is the function of using a theoretical approach to counseling? ›

Psychotherapy theories provide a framework for therapists and counselors to interpret a client's behavior, thoughts, and feelings and help them navigate a client's journey from diagnosis to post-treatment. Theoretical approaches are an understandably integral part of the therapeutic process.

What is the importance of knowing your theoretical orientation? ›

Having a theoretical orientation helps bridge the gap between theory and practice [40]. Having a theoretical orientation also allows beginning counseling students to become confident and competent during their training process allowing them to develop practical interventions and counseling goals [9, 16, 22].

Which is the most common theoretical orientation to therapy? ›

Currently, the most effective approach is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT); however, other approaches, such as psychoanalytic therapy, person-centered therapy, and mindfulness-based therapies are also used—though the effectiveness of these treatments aren't as clear as they are for CBT.

How does having a theoretical orientation prepare a counselor to practice ethically? ›

Understanding and using a theoretical orientation assists counselors in being able to explore relationships often overlooked, finding understanding from a specific perspective, and helping counselors assist clients in the effective change of their behavior, cognitions, emotional functioning, and interpersonal ...

What does theoretical perspective mean and give an example? ›

Updated on January 22, 2020. A theoretical perspective is a set of assumptions about reality that inform the questions we ask and the kinds of answers we arrive at as a result. In this sense, a theoretical perspective can be understood as a lens through which we look, serving to focus or distort what we see.

How do you use theoretical approach? ›

Strategies for Developing the Theoretical Framework
  1. Examine your thesis title and research problem. ...
  2. Brainstorm on what you consider to be the key variables in your research. ...
  3. Review related literature to find answers to your research question.
  4. List the constructs and variables that might be relevant to your study.
7 Sept 2022

What is the importance of theoretical approach? ›

It helps researchers to generalize the various aspects of an observed phenomenon from simply describing it and also identifies their limits. By validating and challenging theoretical assumptions, it facilitates the understanding of concepts and variables as per the given definitions and builds new knowledge.

Do we need to focus only on your theoretical orientation? ›

Theoretical orientation is important for both the counselor and the client. Every mind is different, and everyone responds differently to different forms of therapy. A counselor may be good with one form of psychotherapy but not so great with the other.

What are the different types of theoretical orientations? ›

Most forms of psychotherapy can be associated with four major theoretical orientations: cognitive-behavioral, humanistic, psychodynamic, and systemic.

What are the three main theoretical approaches to Counselling? ›

Perhaps the three main approaches are psychodynamic, humanistic and behavioural. Each of these has a different theory and ideas underpinning it, and the therapists and counsellors using each will approach problems and issues in different ways. These three main approaches each support a number of individual therapies.

What are the five theoretical orientations? ›

The five key aspects of theoretical orientation to development include: psychoanalytic, cognitive, behavior and social cognitive, ethological, and ecological. Each one of these happen to contribute an important piece to the life-span development puzzle.

What are the most common theoretical orientations of clinicians? ›

These orientations include person-centered therapy, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), brief psychodynamic therapy and motivational interviewing. Theoretical orientation was originally formed by my life experiences.

What are the three examples of theoretical perspective? ›

Sociologists today employ three primary theoretical perspectives: the symbolic interactionist perspective, the functionalist perspective, and the conflict perspective.

What is the best theoretical perspective in explaining human behavior? ›

1. The Psychodynamic Perspective. The psychodynamic perspective originated with the work of Sigmund Freud. This view of psychology and human behavior emphasizes the role of the unconscious mind, early childhood experiences, and interpersonal relationships to explain human behavior, as well as to treat mental illnesses.

What is an example something of theoretical? ›

Example Sentences

On a theoretical level, hiring more people seems logical. The idea is purely theoretical at this point. The danger is more than just a theoretical possibility.

When can you use the theory based approach? ›

Theory-based evaluations can only be used when there is some kind of predicted change to assess. They may not be appropriate very early on in a project or programme, before the project / programme has had time to contribute to changes at outcome or impact level.

What are the four theoretical approaches? ›

The four main theoretical perspectives are symbolic interactionism theory, social conflict theory, structural-functional theory, and feminist theory.

What are the 5 Counselling theories and approaches? ›

Fortunately, almost all of the many individual theoretical models of counseling fall into one or more of six major theoretical categories: humanistic, cognitive, behavioral, psychoanalytic, constructionist and systemic.

What does theoretical approach mean in psychology? ›

It focuses on combining and incorporating existing and developing theories of psychology non-experimentally. Theoretical psychology originated from the philosophy of science, with logic and rationality at the base of each new idea. It existed before empirical or experimental psychology.

What are the two theoretical approaches? ›

The theoretical approaches of nonequilibrium statistical mechanics can be broadly divided into two categories: (1) “individual-based” and (2) “population-based” (Fig. 1.2). The individual-based models describe the dynamics of the individual elements explicitly.

Which theoretical orientations focus heavily on the emotions of a client? ›

Emotion-Focused Therapy Theory

EFT is founded in the idea that emotions should be used to guide healthy, meaningful lives. Its theory is based on a scientific inquiry into the human emotional experience.

What theoretical orientation is mindfulness? ›

This is partly because mindfulness is a skill that can be used by therapists of any theoretical orientation – psychodynamic, cognitive behavioral, interpersonal, whatever – in the treatment of clients with virtually any diagnosis, from depression and anxiety to trauma and addictions.

What therapy draws on multiple theoretical orientations and techniques? ›

Eclectic therapy is a type of therapy that seeks to directly meet the client and their needs by drawing from multiple therapy approaches in order to select the best treatment for each individual client.

What does theoretical orientation to study mean? ›

an organized set of assumptions or preferences for given theories that provides a counselor or clinician with a conceptual framework for understanding a client's needs and for formulating a rationale for specific interventions.

What do you think is the most effective methods in counseling process? ›

Psychodynamic Counseling is probably the most well-known counseling approach. Rooted in Freudian theory, this type of counseling involves building strong therapist–client alliances. The goal is to aid clients in developing the psychological tools needed to deal with complicated feelings and situations.

What are the 5 theories of counseling? ›

5 Counseling Theories You May Recognize
  • Psychoanalytical Counseling. Psychoanalytical counseling was first developed by Sigmund Freud. ...
  • Behavioral Counseling. The basis behind the behavioral theory is that behavior is learned. ...
  • Cognitive Counseling. ...
  • Humanistic Counseling. ...
  • Holistic Counseling.

What is the theoretical approach? ›

A theoretical approach attempts to understand the root causes of something, and construct a predictive model that explicitly says when the event will happen again. Theoretical approaches are more often used in branches of knowledge where causes are better understood, such as physics or geology.

What are the major treatment orientations used in therapy? ›

Approaches to psychotherapy fall into five broad categories:
  • Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapies. ...
  • Behavior therapy. ...
  • Cognitive therapy. ...
  • Humanistic therapy. ...
  • Integrative or holistic therapy.

What is theoretical orientation act? ›

ACT is built on Relational Frame Theory. We often form relational networks that are not complimentary or life-giving, but we can also change those relations when we apply mindfulness to accept our feelings and change how we react and relate to them, instead of trying to avoid them.

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