How To Use Theoretical Orientation In Counseling

By: Nicole Beasley

Updated May 04, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Lauren Guilbeault

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 therapy 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.

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What Is Theoretical Orientation?

Theoretical orientation involves a customized approach to how a counselor best serves their client. Every client is different and reacts to different treatments, and theoretical orientation is there to help the counselor find 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 will help.

In other words, the theoretical orientation is the counselor's preferred therapy method. When seeking a counselor, asking what their theoretical orientation is can be a productive question as there are so many 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, to more contemporary. These theories include:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

With CBT, it's believed that the client's beliefs and actions are the main challenges in a client’s situation. To apply CBT, a counselor will have to figure out what behaviors and beliefs are unhelpful and then challenge the client to change them or make some adjustment.

The client may have to record their behaviors in a journal, tracking down thoughts and feelings 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.

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, 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. A counselor can learn a great deal from observing the interactions between family members. Whether it's a bickering couple or parents trying to reach out to their unruly child, family counseling can help.

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 past or future. Sometimes, you just have to look at the world around you to find the answers.


Optimistic Therapy

Also known as humanistic therapy, this is focused on the good parts of life. Counselors 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 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 story in 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. 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, this is similar to psychodynamics, but it's more long term and ends up being more intense. Like psychodynamic therapy, it focuses on the unconscious and tends to involve childhood trauma. The client will have to provide all the details they can to the therapist, 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.

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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 practice. 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 it. 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 or online, 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.


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 accessibility and successful outcomes are a few reasons behind its growing popularity.

In addition, consider that with so many counselors available on BetterHelp, you have plenty of options to find which therapy style works best for you. Online options are often cheaper 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 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.

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