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Consulting psychology is a specialty area of psychology that addressed the applications to such areas as assessment and interventions at the individual, group, and organizational levels. The Handbook of Organizational Consulting Psychology[1] provides an overview of specific areas of study and application within the field. The major journal in the field is Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. Consulting psychologists typically work in business or not-for-profit organizations, in private consulting firms, or in their own private practices. Consulting psychologists are typically professionally licensed as psychologists.[2]

Defining consulting psychologyEdit

"Consulting psychology shall be defined as the function of applying and extending the specialized knowledge of a psychologist through the process of consultation to problems involving human behavior in various areas. A consulting psychologist shall be defined as a psychologist who provides specialized technical assistance to individuals or organizations in regard to the psychological aspects of their work. Such assistance is advisory in nature and the consultant has no direct responsibility for its acceptance. Consulting psychologists may have as clients individuals, institutions, agencies, corporations or other kinds of organization."[3]

The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) is the accrediting body for Master's in Counseling programs and defines consultation as a relationship between professionals or other pertinent persons for the purpose of aiding the consultees.[4]

A process in which a human services professional assists a consultee with a work-related problem with a client system, with the goal of helping both the consultee and the client system in some specified way.[5]

Consultation should help individuals and organizations "become more efficient and effective."[6]

Models of consultationEdit

Generic model[7]
  1. Entry
  2. Diagnosis
  3. Implementation
  4. Disengagement[5]
Client-centered case consultation[7]
  • Focus is to advise others how to best help an individual client
  • Clinicians should consider how they can best provide and utilize client-centered case consultation
  • Consultant functions as a specialist who assesses the client, makes a diagnosis, and makes recommendations as to how the consultee might modify his or her dealings with client
  • Clinicians offer recommendations to teachers, physicians, or other care providers regarding how to best help the client
Consultee-centered case consultation[7]
  • Focus on providing help to the consultee to pinpoint difficulties and build new skills (development of skills via training and/or supervision procedures)
  • Would not meet the client directly, instead work with the provider
  • Consultee would seek consultation after a determination of lack of knowledge, lack of skill, lack of confidence, and/or lack of objectivity within the client–clinician relationship
  • Primary goal is to remediate the shortcomings in the consultee's professional functioning that are responsible for difficulties, with client improvement a secondary goal
Consultee-centered administrative consultation[7]
  • Goal is to improve the professional functioning of members of an administrative staff
  • Consultant generally agrees to work with the organization on a long-term basis
Behavioral consultation model/behavioral-operant model[8]
  • Indirect, problem-solving service
  • Provides specific recommendations regarding problem identification and resolution
  • Consultant is an authority figure who assumes primary responsibility for the consulting relationship
Organization consultation
  • Based on systems theory, consultants need to be particularly aware of the interrelationship between an organization and its environment
  • The goals of meeting human needs and productivity are linked

Roles/jobs of consulting psychologistsEdit

Individual assessment, individual and group process consultation, organizational development, education/training, employee selection/appraisal, research and evaluation test construction, executive/manager coaching, change management, expert technical support[9]

Professional educationEdit

The American Psychological Association has issued guidelines for the professional training of psychologists in this field of psychology.[10] Master's programs are also available and some programs are labeled differently than consulting psychology (e.g., business psychology). Some psychologists come to the field from other areas of training such as clinical psychology, counseling psychology, or industrial and organizational psychology.[11]

CACREP has also issued guidelines for what mental health counselors should know about consulting before entering the profession. Some of these guidelines are as follows:

  • Learn about the expanded role of the mental health counselor and the relationship to other professionals in settings through prevention and consultation
  • Become aware of organizational and consultation models that can be applied with mental health counseling
  • Recognize the importance of family, social networks and community systems in the treatment of mental and/or emotional disorders
  • Understand systems theories and models and processes of consultation
  • Gain an understanding of how to assess the ecosystems as part of mental health assessment in the community

Consultation in community psychologyEdit

Template:You For a consulting psychologist working within a particular community, it is often critical to build relationships in that community in order to enable the collection of appropriate data and better serve clients. Strong relationships with members of the community can have the effect of increasing trust between consultants and clients, thereby allowing more effective interventions. Urie Bronfenbrenner's model of Ecological Systems Theory is a framework for navigating the challenges of consulting in community psychology.

  • Sensitivity to cultural variation, including recognition of the therapist's own cultural bias and/or ethnocentrism
  • Knowledge relating to the cultural background of the client and consultee
  • Exploration of client’s/consultee’s religious, cultural and family background and value system
  • Ability and commitment to develop relationship that reflects cultural needs of the client
Awareness of cultural differences in
  • Communication styles
  • Attitudes towards conflict
  • Approaches to completing tasks
  • Decision making styles
  • Attitudes towards disclosure
  • Approaches to knowing

Influential consulting psychologistsEdit

Some of the pioneering consulting psychologists whose writings and professional work have helped to develop the field of consulting psychology include Clayton Alderfer, Chris Argyris, Eliott Jaques, Harry Levinson, and Edgar Schein. More recent authors whose published works have contributed to the development of the field include Arthur Freedman, Dale Fuqua, Richard Kilburg, Rodney L. Lowman, Jody Newman, Ann O'Roark, David Peterson, [Sharon Robinson-Kurpius]], Peter Sorensen, and Len Sperry.[citation needed]

Society of Consulting PsychologyEdit

The field's professional association is the Society of Consulting Psychology, Division 13 of the American Psychological Association. The Society of Industrial–Organizational Psychology is another professional association of which many consulting psychologists are members.

It is also possible to be certified by the American Board of Professional Psychology.[13]

Ethical issues in consultationEdit

Questions to Consider[14]
  • What degree of responsibility does consultant have for consultees behavior?
  • To what extent does the consultant continue to be "expert" and develop dependence in consultee?
  • What if there is conflict between consultants views/consultees views/clients views? How do you balance each members welfare?
  • What is the motivation for the consultant offering services?
  • How are payment and financial arrangements handled?
  • How do you monitor relationship between consultant and consultee? Prevent consultant from therapizing the consultee?
  • What are the limits of confidentiality within the consultation relationship? How will consultee use information?

Consulting relationships differ from traditional counseling and psychotherapeutic relationships in several fundamental ways. These differences require special consideration in evaluating ethical questions and conflicts, identifying ethical parameters within any given situation, and using existing ethical guidelines in determining appropriate courses of action. Currently, formal guidelines specific to the practice of consultation are not available, and existing codes of ethics for the helping professions provide only limited guidance for consultation practice. Consequently, consultants bear a heavy personal responsibility for the consequences of their professional decisions and actions.[15]

Ethical issues are inevitably complicated by the fact that consulting relationships involve three parties: the consultant, the consultee, and the consultee's client system.

Confidentiality: maintenance of confidentiality depends not only on the consultant, but also on the cooperative efforts of perhaps many organizational members as well; levels of participation by members are often variable and so, too, must access to information be variable; selective access to information in consultation must be ensured even in light of long-term patterns of relationships that existed before consultation began; this selective confidentiality must be maintained in a system that is structured to facilitate open communication flow; because they are selective, parameters of confidentiality are not inherent in given relationships, but must be negotiated; these parameters must be publicly delineated to ensure that all parties know who has access to what information; and while consultants have an ethical responsibility to ensure confidentiality, in reality, they often have very limited control over the information and the participants in consultation.[16]

Informed Consent: this right requires that participation by consultee members be a voluntary decision based on a full explanation of the purpose, nature, risks and benefits, and potential outcomes of intervention. Implicit in the definition of informed consent is the expectation that individuals are free to choose from among multiple options, one of which is always to decline to participate.

Power: the potential misuse or abuse of power in consultation is the focus of concern. This concern stems from the fact that power is typically distributed unequally among participants in the consultation process. This unequal distribution of power may exist between the consultant and individuals or groups within the consultee organization, or between various individuals or groups within the organization itself. Power differentials may be real or perceived; in either case they can exert substantial influence on the process and outcome of consultation. From an ethical perspective, we are most concerned about the misuse of power by those who possess it to inappropriately influence, manipulate, coerce, or in other ways harm those who have less. power and responsibility are fundamentally linked. As one's level and scope of influence increase, so, too, does responsibility for its use and impact. Consultants must make every effort to ensure that their power is used to facilitate the interests and goals of the consultee. Collaborative definition of organizational interests and goals with the consultee will reduce the likelihood that the consultant will exploit this influence to facilitate unilaterally defined objectives.[15]

Dual Relationships: Consultants openly acknowledge any preexisting relationships with organizational members and that they monitor closely any potential effects of those relationships that might inhibit fulfillment of their professional obligations. Ultimately, it is the consultant who bears responsibility for the establishment and maintenance of appropriate boundaries in relationships with participants in the consulting process.


  1. Lowman, R.L. (Ed.). (2002). Handbook of Organizational Consulting Psychology. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  2. Lowman, Rodney L. Education and Training in Organizational and Consulting Psychology. PDF. URL accessed on 17 January 2010.
  3. APA Division 13, 1999
  5. 5.0 5.1 Dougherty, A.M. (2009). Psychological Consultation and Collaboration in Schools and Community Settings. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole Cengage Learning.
  6. Former Div. 13 Chair DeWayne Kurpius, 1978
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Caplan, G. (1970). Theory and practice of mental health consultation. New York: Basic Books.; Caplan, G. & Caplan, R.B. (1993). Mental health consultation and collaboration. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  8. Bergan, J.R. & Kratochwill, T.R. (1990) Behavioral Consultation and Therapy. New York, NY: Springer.
  10. Guidelines for education and training at the doctoral and postdoctoral levels in consulting psychology/Organizational consulting psychology (2007). American Psychologist, 62, 980–92.
  11. Child Psychologists and Mental Health Consulting
  12. Benson, J., Thistlethwaite, J. (2009). Mental health across cultures: a practical guide for health professionals. Oxford: Radcliffe.
  13. ABAP – Organizational and Business Consulting Psychology. URL accessed on 17 January 2010.
  14. Fanibanda, D.K. (1976). Ethical issues of mental health consultation. Professional Psychology, 7, 547–52.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Newman, J.L. (1993). Ethical Issues in Consultation. Journal of Couunseling and Development, 72, 148–56.
  16. Newman, J.L. & Robinson, S.E. (1991). In the best interests of the consultee: Ethical issues in consultation. Consulting Psychology Bulletin, 43, 23–29.

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