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Counseling Psychology in

Portugal: Current Trends

and Future Directions
Maria Paula Paixão
José Tomás da Silva

Universidade de Coimbra

Counseling Psychology at The Crossroads

Coimbra, 29-31 October, 2007

Key points of our presentation

 Defining characteristics of Counseling Psychology
 Historical antecedents of the emerging specialty of
Counseling Psychology in Portugal
 Current status
 Future Directions

What is counseling psychology?
 Currently there is no indigenous accepted
definition of counseling psychology in our country
 The same is true about any original Portuguese
theoretical models or techniques
 The majority of researchers and practitioners, in
Portugal, will subscribe to and agree with the five
unifying themes explained by Gelso & Fretz, as
the most important distinctive characteristics of the
discipline of counseling psychology

Five unifying themes in counseling

psychology (Gelso & Fretz, 2001)
 A focus on intact personalities
 Attention to peoples’ assets and strengths
regardless of degree of disturbance
 Emphasis on relatively brief interventions
 Attention to person-environment interactions
 Emphasis on educational and career development

Central Roles of Counseling
Another distinctive characteristic of the science and
profession of Counseling Psychology, is its
emphasis on the activation of the following roles:


 Educative-Developmental (or promotional)

Earlier historical antecedents of the emergence

of Counseling Psychology in Portugal – Pre-
WWII years
 (Timid) introduction of scientific psychology studies in the
Portuguese Universities (Faculties of Letters and
Humanities of Coimbra and Lisbon ): disciplines of
General Psychology; Experimental Psychology; School
Psychology and Mental Measurements
 Foundation of first experimental psychology laboratory
in Portugal (University of Coimbra, Prof. Alves dos
 Foundation of the “Instituto de Orientação Profissional”
(Vocational Guidance Institute, Prof. Faria de
Vasconcelos, University of Lisbon:1925).

Enduring the Salazar Dictatorship

 The dictatorship of the “Estado Novo” (an Iberian form of

fascism) rule the destinies of Portugal for several decades
 Salazar and other members of the established
nomenclature weren’t supporters of the Social Sciences
(including Psychology) – they fear their potential
revolutionary power!
 In Portugal during the 40’s, and post second world war
years, we remain isolated and underdeveloped in several
ways (scientifically, economically, socially), in blatant
contrast with the blazing expansion that was occurring in
almost every western democratic societies

(More) Recent historical events – From the

60’s until present day
 Establishment of the “Serviço Nacional de
Emprego”/National Employment Service (1960), and
afterwards (1979) the “Instituto do Emprego e de
Formação Profissional”/Employment Institute and
Vocational Training)
 Creation of the career of Conselheiro de Orientação
Profissional-COP (Vocational Guidance Counselor)

Recent historical events - continuing
 Foundation of the first Faculties of Psychology (Coimbra,
Lisbon, and Oporto) in 1980.
 Creation of several Services (Vocational and Educational Guidance,
Consulting Psychology) within the Faculties structures, related to the
specialty of counseling psychology
 Creation of the career of Psicólogo-Conselheiro de
Orientação Escolar e Profissional (COEP), within the
Ministry of Education, and the Services of Psychology and
Guidance (SPO’s) in the Educational System (1991)
 Introduction in the major Universities and other Higher
Education Institutions of Counseling and Psychotherapy
Services (late 90’s).

Current Status
(Duarte, Paixão & Lima, 2007)
 Intensive recruitment of counseling professionals
from mid 80’s to mid 90’s to work in schools and
employment settings (private and mainly public
 Creation of counseling psychology services in some
higher education institutions (and the RESAPES
network, late 90’s)
 Several initiatives took place (seminars, national
scientific meetings, publication of thematic journal
issues and proceedings)

Current status - continuing
 Research on counseling issues has been increasing,
namely in the ever growing number of master and
doctoral dissertations
 Attention to specific populations
 At risk students (Special Education Needs)
 Erasmus students
 Students coming from Portuguese Speaking Countries
 Ageing groups

Current status - continuing

 More culturally diversified working force (specially
people from former Portuguese colonies, eastern
European countries and Brazil), has drawn
attention to specific counseling needs (prevention
programs, health promotion education and
counseling services), creating new employment
opportunities for counseling psychologists
 The beginning of the debate of the ICT in
counseling (namely the implementation of on line
career counseling)

Current status - continuing
 BUT …
 Lack of professional regulations has encouraged other less
trained practitioners to engage in counseling activities
 In the last few years there has been a severe decrease in the
recruitment and training of counseling professionals
 New evidence of de-motivation and even burnout among some
very dedicated counseling psychologists (difficulty in coping with
increasing job demands imposed by the employers, caused by the
consequences of globalization)
 Lack of strategic plan for counseling psychology (a clear mission
 Lack of common core national curriculum for the training and
credentialing of professionals in the specialty of counseling

Future Directions
 To invest in the post-graduate training (2nd and
3rd cycle of higher education studies) in counseling
psychology (Counseling Psychology Diploma)
 A Division of Counseling Psychology should be
institutionalized within the Scientific Psychological
Associations already existing and/or in the
Professional College to be created in near future
 To restructure the a-theoretical, isolated and
mainly remedial practices existing today into an
articulated and full counseling model.

Future Directions -- continuing
 To improve the quality of the services provided
(doing more program evaluation studies)
 To increase the attractiveness of prospective
graduate students to the area of Counseling
 To foster the growth of indigenous research and
the demand for evidence practice and its

Future Directions -- continuing

 To promote links with European and other
international political and scientific institutions to
strengthen the visibility, and social relevance of
this specialty of applied psychology
 To facilitate full participation of Portuguese
counseling psychologists in the professional
associations of counseling psychology in other

Possible working definition of
counseling psychology
A specialty within the science and profession of
psychology [Gelso & Fretz, 2001] (…) [that] can be
understood as the application of psychological
knowledge, psychotherapeutic skills and professional
judgment to facilitate enhanced human functioning
and quality of life [Leung, Chan, & Leahy, 2007].”