ERIC Identifier: ED446333
Publication Date: 2000-08-00
Author: Granello, Paul F.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Student Services Greensboro NC.
Historical Context: The Relationship of Computer Technologies
and Counseling. ERIC/CASS Digest.
Computers have been around since the Electronic Numerical Integrator and
Computer, or ENIAC, was invented in 1946. The relationship between computers and
counseling, and in wider sense psychotherapy, also has existed for decades. The
impact of computer technologies on counseling has changed over time. The purpose
of this digest is to summarize and review the historical events of the
counseling-computer relationship. This will help provide a context for
counselors in which to reflect on their use of computer technologies in the
future. Counselors may have to play a unique role in that they are not simply
consumers of computer technology but also social advocates for its humane
THE 1950S AND 1960S: THE MAINFRAME, MINI, AND PC AS THERAPIST
Initially, large mainframe computers were expensive and difficult to
maintain. They were primarily only owned by large corporations, universities,
and government agencies. Computational time was an expensive resource and
mainframes did not utilize programming languages that were user friendly. The
result of these factors was a very limited impact of computers on the counseling
profession. However, it was in the 1950's that theorists like B. F. Skinner and
Norman Crowder developed ideas about programmed instruction that are the
historical antecedents for modern computer aided instruction and we-based
distance education that are currently in vogue (Niemiec & Walberg, 1989).
In the early 1960's minicomputers came to replace mainframes. In 1962 Digital
Equipment Corporation (DEC) produced the first minicomputer. These machines used
integrated circuits and were much smaller and more affordable than mainframes.
As a result, computational time became a more plentiful resource, and when
coupled with the development of more user friendly programming languages (BASIC,
PASCAL, PLATO, ILLIAC) a wider audience began to take an interest in the
application of computers to counseling. Computer aided instruction was first
explored in 1959 when IBM assisted in the development of the first program to
teach mathematics. In 1963, in cooperation with Stanford University, IBM
released COURSEWRITER, the first programming language specifically designed for
computer-aided instruction (CAI). Another leader in the development of CAI was
the Computer Education Research Laboratory (CERL), which worked closely with
Control Data Corporation to develop PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automatic
Teaching Operations). PLATO became the most widely used instructional program in
the United States and it was primarily directed at college level instruction.
Thus it is really in the 1960's that the computer-counseling relationship begins
In the late 1960s the idea of computer-as-therapist was explored. One example
of such a program, ELIZA, was developed in 1966. The programmers sought to
emulate the reflective comments of a person-centered therapist. A version of the
program is still available to look at today on the World Wide Web
(www-ai.ijs.si/eliza-cgi-bin/eliza_script). It soon became apparent that ELIZA
and other programs like it had serious limitations in terms of interpreting
natural language, so the idea of the computer replacing therapists did not have
technological viability at that time.
THE 1970S AND 1980S: MICROCOMPUTERS FOR EVERYONE
The advent of the microcomputer made computing time a much cheaper resource.
Microcomputers also were increasing in computational power exponentially.
Counselors began to interface with computers much more, and in the 1980s several
began to research their applications to therapy, counselor training, and the
ethical ramifications of the technology on the profession. Two interesting
examples of programs developed in the 1980's include the PlatoDCS (Dilemma
Counseling System) and MORTON. PlatoDCS was a computer program designed to help
clients who felt "stuck" with making a decision between two adverse
consequences. This program presented the user with a structured model for
solving dilemmas (Wagman & Keber, 1984). The second example, MORTON (Selmi,
Klien, Griest, Johnson, & Harris, 1982), was designed to assist clients with
mild to moderate depression. The program used a psycho educational approach
focused on cognitive therapy principles of identifying cognitions that may lead
Interest seemed to peak in the counselor-computer relationship in 1984 when
the journal, Counselor Education and Supervision ran a special issue on the
topic. In 1988 Lambert wrote an article that illustrated many of the
difficulties that the counseling profession had in adopting the widespread use
of computers for therapeutic and training purposes. These included a lack of
trained faculty and the expense of producing educational software.
One area of counseling that was profoundly affected by the advent of
microcomputers in the 1980's has been vocational guidance. Today virtually all
major assessment instruments for vocational guidance and personality testing are
available in computer administered or scored formats.
THE 1990S AND BEYOND
Interest seemed to wane in the early 1990s as evidenced by a drop in
scholarly articles about computers in counseling journals. However,
technological changes were about to occur again with the advent of the Internet
and World Wide Web. The Internet and easier programming methods for its use have
revitalized the computer counseling relationship. For the first time in the
computer counseling relationship, the number of counselors, trainees, and
faculty using technology grew from a small, elite group to a sizeable cohort.
Suddenly professional counseling organizations had web pages, counselor
education programs had courses on-line, and listservs were being employed for
professional communication (ICN, COUNSGRADS). In spite of these advances, many
limitations still exist for the counseling computer relationship. These include
the professions ability to work with difficult questions about delivering
therapy over the internet and training students via distance education.
The potential for the use of computer by the counseling profession seems only
limited by individual creativity. The possibility of using artificial
intelligence programs to provide case simulations, or virtual reality
technologies to treat mental and emotional disorders may seem like it is science
fiction, but if history informs us we know that the counseling and computer
relationship will continue to evolve and grow.
The computer counseling relationship has evolved
over time. Counselors have not avoided engagement with computer technologies but
have become more involved with them as they have become a more plentiful
resource and more user friendly. Counselors have used computers for therapeutic
and educational purposes. In addition to learning to use the technology,
counseling as a profession must cope with the many ethical questions that arise
from implementing computer mediated training and therapy. Perhaps the greatest
challenge to our profession in the future is not only to exploit the benefits of
the computer-counseling relationship but also to advocate for the use of
computer technology by the society as a whole in ways that protect-rather than
diminish-human freedom and dignity.
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Lambert, M. (1988). Computers in counselor education: Four years after a
special issue. Counselor Education and Supervision, 28, 100-109.
Niemiec, R. P., & Walberg, H. J. (1989). From teaching machines to
microcomputers: Some milestones in the history of computer-based instruction.
Journal of Research on Computing in Education, 21, 263-276.
Selmi, P. M., Klein, M. H., Greist, J. H., & Harris, W. G. (1982). An
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