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Counseling and psychotherapy in France: An evolving heterogeneous field


In 2010, France’s population reached 63.1 million, making it the second most populated country in the European Union (EU) after Germany (The French National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies, as cited in Pia & Beaumel, 2011). Furthermore, France has one of the lowest immigration rates in Europe (five times less than Spain for example) (The European Center for the Development of Vocational Training [CEDEFOP], 2008). There are three specific demographic characteristics in France with direct repercussions on counseling activities. The first concerns discrimination against young people from immigrant families from southern Europe, the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa (Silberman & Fournier, 2006). The second concerns the specific difficulties and needs of people in the second stage or at the end of their career. The third characteristic concerns the general deterioration of working conditions in French companies. France is facing a high increase in the rate of suicides for professional reasons, ranking third in the world after Japan and Finland in 2005 (du Roy, 2009). In France today, the term “counseling” is seen more as a useful metaphorical expression than a faithful representation of reality. In reality, it covers a broad range of practices in terms of methods, the professionals involved, and reference models. The professional field of counseling resembles overlapping networks of very different, unconnected people. This heterogeneity is reflected in the wide variety of terms used in France to describe the practices of helping others. However, these practices can be divided into three broad categories based on the problems dealt with and the people concerned. The first category covers activities related to issues of educational guidance and is directed towards adolescents and young adults. So, students of any educational level can take advantage of guidance counseling, which refers in part to the action of “holding council,” and can be described as “taking action after deliberation” (Lhotellier, 2001). The second category of practice concerns adults going through a period of professional transition, looking for work or training. Coaching is a term that has been used for several years. In the fields of occupational integration, the term “to accompany” (or “support”) is used to define a relationship based on assistance of a psychological nature over a period of several weeks. The type of assistance offered in these two categories is usually defined in French by the untranslated English word “counseling.” In France, counseling is often used to describe assistance aimed at “normal” people, “taking into account their personal development during a challenging situation, drawing on existing strengths and integrating the dynamic between the person and his/her surrounding environment” (Paul, 2002, p. 45). The third category covers psychotherapeutic practices offered to people suffering from identified psychological disorders. These practices are seen as distinct from those in the first two categories and are more homogeneous, better structured and longer established. As observed by TouretteTurgis (1996), “For the French, counseling is far removed from the idea of therapy” (p. 25). This chapter analyzes current counseling practices offered to these three client groups: young people at school, professional adults, and adults with psychological difficulties. It covers the main developments in practices aimed at these client groups, and the limitations and contradictions of a professional sector currently going through a period of unprecedented growth in France.


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hal-03264810 , version 1 (18-06-2021)



Valérie Cohen-Scali, Jacques Pouyaud, Emmanuelle Vignoli. Counseling and psychotherapy in France: An evolving heterogeneous field. Roy Moodley; Uwe P. Gielen; Rosa Wu. Handbook of Counseling and Psychotherapy in an International Context, Routledge, pp.308-317, 2013, 9780203864906. ⟨10.4324/9780203864906-36⟩. ⟨hal-03264810⟩
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