History of Guidance and Counseling In America 

Guidance and counseling is now in its most developed form in history in America today. But it didn’t start that way. Several milestones were crossed and hands were involved in the historical development of the profession over the years.

In this post, we will cover a detailed overview of the history of guidance and counseling in America; the major milestones, founding fathers, challenges, as well as the current state of guidance and counseling in America right from the Precolonial Era.

Related: What Is Guidance and Counseling (Overview, Types, and Scope)

Guidance and Counseling In the PreColonial and Colonial Era in America

It is crucial to note that guidance and counseling did not exist in the US during the Precolonial era as a separate field. Indigenous tribes did, however, have their kinds of direction and counseling that were ingrained in their customs and cultures.

Related: Traditional Guidance and Counseling (Characteristics, Advantages, and Limitations)

The main goals of education during the colonial era were religious instruction and fundamental literacy.

Despite the lack of formalization of guidance and counseling as a separate profession, several early educational institutions did offer certain guidance services to students.

For instance, Harvard University created the job of “keeper of the college library and counselor,” who was in charge of advising students and helping them with their academic work.

Then, the US had significant industrialization and urbanization in the 19th century, which increased the demand for guidance and counseling services.

To assist young people in locating acceptable work, Boston’s Vocation Bureau launched the first official advisory program in 1908. “Vocational and Moral Guidance,” a fundamental work by University of Michigan professor Jesse B. Davis, helped to establish guidance and counseling as a separate field of study.

During this time, vocational advising was the main focus of guidance and counseling programs, with a focus on assisting students in making career decisions and developing workplace competencies.

Related: 9 Goals of Counseling (Aims, Goals, and Objectives)

Counselors assessed students’ skills and interests using a variety of instruments before advising them on the best career paths. 

Counseling did not, however, address personal-social problems.

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Generally, guidance and counseling was not organized as a separate specialty in the US during the Precolonial Era and Colonial Period. Early in the 20th century, the profession of guiding and counseling with a concentration on vocational guidance started to take shape.

Related: History of Guidance and Counseling In Japan

Historical Development of Modern-Day Guidance and Counseling In America

Although there is evidence to suggest that the philosophical ideas of Plato and Aristotle in ancient Greece and Rome served as the foundation for counseling and guiding principles, the history of school counseling began at the beginning of the 20th century.

The adherence to the idea of confidentiality within the confessional provides proof that some of the methods and abilities used by contemporary guidance counselors were also used by Catholic priests in the Middle Ages. 

One of the earliest books about job alternatives was published during the end of the sixteenth century and was titled The Universal Plaza of All the Professions of the World (1626), written by Tomaso Garzoni. 

Yet, organized guidance initiatives didn’t begin until the 20th century.

The social reform movement in the 1890s was one of the initial catalysts for the growth of guidance and counseling in the United States. 

Many were shocked by the hardships faced by residents in urban slums and the pervasive exploitation of child labor.

One of the results was the drive for compulsory education, which was followed soon after by the movement for vocational counseling, which in its early stages focused on helping people enter the workforce so they could become contributing members of society. 

The 1900s to 1920s

The movement for vocational guidance is frequently recognized as having its roots in the social and political reformer Frank Parsons. He was instrumental in the creation of the Boston Vocational Bureau through his work with the Civic Service House.

The Boston Vocational Bureau assisted in developing a system of career guidance in Boston public schools in 1909.

The work of the bureau had an impact on the need for and application of vocational assistance in both the US and other nations. By 1918, there were records of the bureau’s influence in places like China and Uruguay. 

Early on, it was believed that most guidance and counseling were vocational, but as the field developed, school counselors’ agendas began to include additional personal issues.

Because of the United States’ involvement in World War I, a high number of draftees needed to be evaluated, largely to choose the right candidates for leadership roles.

These early psychological tests conducted on large groups of people were immediately recognized as useful tools to be utilized in the educational system.

This was the onset of the standardized testing movement that is now a significant part of American public education in the early twenty-first century.

During this period, vocational assistance was becoming more and more popular across the nation, and by 1918, over 900 high schools had some sort of vocational guidance system in place.

The National Vocational Guidance Association now National Career Development Association (NCDA), which was established in 1913, contributed to the professionalization and growth of guidance counselors.

Early career counselors were frequently teachers who were appointed to take on additional obligations beyond their regular teaching duties.

Related: How To Organize School Guidance and Counseling Program

The 1920s to 1940s

In the 1920s and 1930s, counseling activities were expanded to include issues other than those related to employment. A student’s social, personal, and academic facets of life required consideration as well. 

Related: 7 Core Guidance Programs and Services in Schools (Scope of Guidance)

The 1930s Great Depression resulted in funding restrictions for counseling programs. 

Guidance counselors did not experience a rise in funding for their work until 1938, following a presidential committee’s proposal and the enactment of the George Dean Act, which allocated money specifically for vocational guidance counseling.

A significant shift away from testing emerged after World War 2. The American psychologist Carl Rogers was one of the key individuals who indirectly contributed to this change.

His emphasis on non-directive counseling (later referred to as “client-centered”) was widely embraced by the counseling profession.

In 1942, Rogers released Counseling and Psychotherapy, and in 1951, Client-Centered Therapy. In stark contrast to earlier views in psychology and counseling, these two books developed a new counseling theory.

By emphasizing the establishment of circumstances that gave the client more influence over the counseling material, this new paradigm decreased the amount of guidance given by counselors.

The National Defense Education Act (NDEA), which was passed in 1958, gave financial support to all levels of public and private education in the United States. 

The NDEA, which was created primarily to promote the advancement of education in science, mathematics, and modern foreign languages, also offered assistance in other fields, such as technical education, area studies, geography, English as a second language, counseling and guidance, school libraries, and educational media centers. 

Sputnik’s launch by the Soviet Union and worries that other nations were exceeding the United States in math and science led to additional support for school counseling.

It was therefore believed that by providing adequate money for education, including assistance and counseling, more students would choose to major in the sciences.

The 1950s to 1970s

Moreover, the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) was established in the 1950s, enhancing the school counselor’s professional standing.

The need for more cultural sensitivity on the part of school counselors was highlighted by C. Gilbert Wrenn’s work, particularly his 1962 book The Counselor in a Changing World. 

The 1960s also saw the introduction of a large number of additional counseling theories, such as John Krumboltz’s behavioral counseling method, William Glasser’s reality therapy, Abraham Maslow and Rollo May’s existential approach, and gestalt therapy by Frederick Perl.

During this time, funding was made available for the training and hiring of school counselors with a focus on primary students thanks to legislative backing and a change to the NDEA.

The school counselor started to be seen in the 1970s as a component of a broader program rather than as the program itself. The importance of holding school counselors accountable for their services and the advantages of using systematic evaluations were emphasized. 

The campaign for special education also began during this decade. The Education for All Disabled Children Act, passed in 1975, addressed the needs of students with disabilities in terms of education and counseling.

The 1980s and 1990s

Training requirements and criteria for school counseling were developed in the 1980s. Moreover, counseling programs in particular and education as a whole were being evaluated with greater rigor at this time.

School counselors were taught to modify the learning environment to meet the requirements of students so that schools could provide suitable educational opportunities for people with disabilities.

Several counselors’ responsibilities and positions started to shift significantly. 

Particularly following the introduction of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, counselors began to find themselves acting as gatekeepers to Individualized Education Plans (IEP) and Student Study Teams (SST), as well as consultants to special education teachers.

School counseling was disregarded as an essential component of a student’s educational growth throughout the 1990s drive for school reform and the formation of national educational standards. 

Related: 15 Importance of Guidance and Counseling In Education (School, Teachers, and Students)

Through the creation of national standards for school counseling programs, the ASCA partially made up for this.

These standards demonstrated the importance of school counseling for each student’s overall educational development and clearly outlined the roles and responsibilities of school counseling programs.

Fathers of Guidance and Counseling in America

The development of guidance and counseling in the US was influenced by many key players, including educators, psychologists, and policymakers. Some of the most notable individuals who contributed to the growth and evolution of guidance and counseling in the US include

Frank Parsons 

Parsons is often considered the “father” of vocational guidance. He founded the Vocation Bureau in Boston in 1908 and developed the three-step process of vocational guidance: self-knowledge, occupational knowledge, and decision-making.

Jesse B. Davis 

Davis was a professor at the University of Michigan and published “Vocational and Moral Guidance” in 1913, which helped to establish guidance and counseling as a field of study.

Carl Rogers 

Rogers was a psychologist who is best known for his client-centered therapy approach. He developed the concept of unconditional positive regard and emphasized the importance of empathy in counseling.

Abraham Maslow

Maslow was a psychologist who developed the theory of humanistic psychology. His hierarchy of needs model has had a significant impact on counseling theory and practice.

E.G. Williamson

Williamson was a counselor and educator who developed the trait-factor approach to vocational guidance. This approach emphasized the importance of matching individuals’ traits with job requirements.

Anne Roe

Roe was a psychologist who developed the theory of occupational choice. Her theory posited that individuals choose occupations based on their own needs and values, as well as external factors such as social class and educational opportunities.

Arvid Anderson

Anderson was a counselor and educator who advocated for the use of standardized tests in guidance and counseling. He developed the Strong Interest Inventory, a widely used vocational assessment tool.

Donald Super 

Super was a psychologist who developed the lifespan approach to career development. His theory emphasized the importance of life roles and the influence of environmental factors on career choice.

These individuals and many others contributed to the development of guidance and counseling in the US, shaping the profession and its practices over time.

Challenges in the Historical Development of Guidance and Counseling In America

The historical development of guidance and counseling in the US has faced several challenges over time. Some of these challenges include:

Lack of recognition

In the early years, guidance and counseling services were not deemed essential enough to be offered by educational institutions. It received little attention because it was regarded as a tangential activity.

Insufficient education and training

In the early years, guidance and counseling professionals did not acquire sufficient education and training. Due to the absence of standardization in the practice, pupils’ outcomes were subpar.

Related: 9 Ways To Improve Counselor Training Programs for Better Counselors

Racial and gender biases

Diverse student demographics were not taken into account in guidance and counseling procedures. Throughout the assessment and counseling of pupils, racial and gender prejudices were pervasive, leading to unfair treatment and discrimination.

Opposition to innovation in guidance and counseling practices

The traditional educational system resisted change and innovation. The sluggish adoption of novel methods and procedures that might help pupils was caused by this reluctance.

Insufficient resources

Guidance and counseling services were frequently underfunded, which left students without resources and assistance. Most needy students have less access to counseling and guidance services as a result.

Ethical issues

As guidance and counseling became more professionally oriented, ethical issues including student privacy and confidentiality gained importance. To ensure the preservation of students’ rights and well-being, ethical standards and procedures had to be developed.

Related: 22 Principles and Professional Ethics of Guidance and Counseling

These challenges have influenced the growth of guidance and counseling in the US but have also resulted in notable advancements in the field over time. To fully address these issues and guarantee that all students have access to high-quality guidance and counseling services, however, there is still much work to be done.

Current State of Guidance and Counseling In America

The entire needs of students are now being prioritized more than ever in guidance and counseling in the US.

Guidance and counseling now cover a wider range of issues, such as personal, social, emotional, and academic challenges, moving beyond their original, limiting focus on occupational guidance.

Nearly all US schools now offer guidance and counseling services, and the value of mental health and well-being in the classroom is becoming more widely understood. 

Professionals in guidance and counseling work with students to help them acquire the abilities and approaches necessary to succeed academically, socially, and emotionally.

Related: 53+ Roles and Functions of School Guidance Personnel

Some of the current trends and issues in guidance and counseling in the US include:

Emphasis on social-emotional learning (SEL)

Schools are placing a greater emphasis on SEL to help students develop social and emotional competencies that will help them succeed in school and life.

Addressing the mental health needs of students

Schools are increasingly recognizing the importance of addressing mental health issues among students. Guidance and counseling professionals are working to provide support and resources to students struggling with mental health issues.

Focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion

There is a growing awareness of the importance of creating inclusive school environments that value diversity and promote equity. Guidance and counseling professionals are working to ensure that all students have access to the services and support they need to succeed.

Use of technology

Guidance and counseling professionals are increasingly using technology to deliver services and support to students. This includes online counseling and virtual guidance services.

Related: 15 Roles and Importance of ICT in Counseling

Advocacy and policy change

Guidance and counseling professionals are advocating for policy change at the local, state, and national levels to improve access to services and support for students.

Related: How To Advocate for Guidance and Counseling


In the US, guidance and counseling have developed to meet all of a student’s needs, with a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion as well as social and emotional learning, mental health, and diversity.

Nearly all schools offer services, and professionals deliver materials and help to students utilizing a variety of technologies.

Also, they are advocating for policy reforms to increase students’ access to services and assistance.

Overall, the state of guidance and counseling today reflects a growing understanding of how crucial it is to meet students’ needs and foster inclusive learning environments.

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