Supportive Counselling

Our rating
 1 smiley:  This treatment is promising and may be useful. It has some evidence to support it, but more evidence is needed to be sure it works.

What does this rating mean?

The rating system

  • 3 smiliesThese treatments are very useful. They are strongly supported as effective by scientific evidence.
  • 2 smiliesThese treatments are useful. They are supported by scientific evidence as effective, but the evidence is not as strong.
  • 1 smileyThese treatments are promising and may be useful. They have some evidence to support them, but more evidence is needed to be sure they work.
  • No smiley On the available evidence, these treatments do not seem to be effective.
  • Question markThese treatments have not been properly researched. It is not possible to say whether they are useful or not.
  • These treatments are not recommended and could be dangerousSafety or other concerns have been raised for the use of these treatments.

What is it?

In counselling, people talk about their problems with a health professional. Counselling relationships are respectful, caring and accepting.

Supportive counselling or person-centred therapy is one type of counselling. Supportive counsellors give support, listen to people and help them talk over their problems.

Some therapists combine supportive counselling with other methods of psychological treatment such as cognitive behaviour therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy and psychodynamic psychotherapy.

How does it work?

In supportive counselling, a person is able to talk to their counsellor or therapist about their lives, issues or conflicts they are experiencing, their relationships and their goals. Supportive counselling aims to help people feel deeply understood and supported, and the counsellor helps their client to find ways to resolve issues they might be having. Developing a supportive and trusting therapeutic relationship between the counsellor and their client is an important part of the therapy.

Is it effective?

Studies have found that supportive counselling is helpful for mild to moderate depression. However, it is not as effective as therapies which contain specific psychological techniques such as cognitive behavioural therapy.

Are there any disadvantages?

Private counsellors and therapists can be expensive. However, free or low-cost counselling may be available. In Australia, Medicare may provide rebates for sessions with some therapists (see below).

Where do you get it?

Many health professionals can provide supportive counselling for depression. For example, counsellors, GPs, clinical psychologists, psychologists, social workers, nurses and psychiatrists may all provide counselling (see Psychologists and other therapists).

Some mental health organisations have specially trained volunteers who provide free counselling over the phone or over the internet. For example, counselling is available in many countries through crisis support services such as Lifeline or The Samaritans. Some Australian organisations that provide counselling are shown under National and State Help.

Recommendation

Supportive counselling can be helpful for depression. However, it may not be effective in the longer term. Supportive counselling is not as effective as other psychological treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy or interpersonal therapy.

Key references

  • Bower P, Knowles S, Coventry PA, Rowland N. Counselling for mental health and psychosocial problems in primary care. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2011(9).
  • Cuijpers P, Driessen E, Hollon SD, van Oppen P, Barth J, Andersson G. The efficacy of non-directive supportive therapy for adult depression: A meta-analysis. Clin Psychol Rev. 2012; 32: 280–291.

Last reviewed and updated: 1 November 2019