Research in Counseling: “I thought there’d be no math.”

Attending counseling and psychotherapy conferences over the past 10 years, I have heard on numerous occasions some version of the following statement, usually made in jest: “I decided to become a counselor because I was told there would be no math”. Aside from the frequently cited “math phobia”, the counseling field, with its humanistic roots, has struggled philosophically with the reductionism commonly associated with quantitative research. Yet, the need for original research in counseling has continued to grow for the last decade or more. In fact, the recent review of 10 years of research in counseling in the Journal of Counseling and Development (Ray et al., 2011) underscores the importance for the counseling field to produce its own research for the sake of its professional identity. The authors further document the rise in research articles in counseling from 2004 to 2007.


I am currently teaching a Research and Program Evaluation course for master’s students in mental health and school counseling. For practicing counselors and those in training to be counselors, the most central and practical question is “What is the research base for the counseling I provide?” Students in this class are answering this question in a variety of creative and exciting ways. Conducting program evaluations at their internship sites and engaging in outcome monitoring to evaluate the services they provide in real-world settings. Essentially, they are bridging the gap that has been a historic point of friction between researchers and practitioners. The stereotypical complaint from researchers is that “practitioners don’t stay up on the research” and practitioners may point to researchers “being out of touch with everyday practice”. I am excited to teach a group of students to address the research-practice divide with a scientist-practitioner mindset.


In the age of accountability, research is increasingly becoming the standard. For counselor educators and researchers the continued growth in research output can help solidify professional identity in the research domain. As for counseling practitioners, understanding research and keeping up on recent research findings is not enough. Taking a scientist-practitioner approach to monitoring effectiveness is how counselors can answer the call of accountability, embody the practical side of research in our profession, and ensure the best results for clients. All while embracing a little math.


Ray, D. C., Hull, D. M., Thacker, A. J., Pace, L. S., Swan, K. L., Carlson, S. E., & Sullivan, J. M. (2011). Research in counseling: A 10-year review to inform practice. Journal of Counseling & Development, 89(3), 349-359.


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