History of Guidance and Counseling In Japan (1945 to date)

It is said that counseling, as a professional helping practice, began to be conducted in Japan after 1945 after the end of World War II. Although they had, at that time, Child Guidance Centers and research institutes for childhood issues, such centers will not be considered here.

The end of World War II brought about changes to the Japanese way of thinking as a basis of counseling and, above all, the way of looking at human beings.

In 1946, soon after the end of the Second World War, American educational missions visited Japan to recommend to them to reject the totalitarian approach toward education adopted until then and to implant a more liberal and democratic approach.

What the new approach emphasized was the establishment of an educational system that could promote the independence of individual thinking, the development of individuality, and democratic rights and responsibilities of citizens, on the assumption that individual values should be respected and that individual differences should be recognized.

The recommendations of the missions naturally included an idea of guidance and counseling. Guidance would help individuals to understand their abilities and interests, to set goals, and finally, to achieve matured self-control as favorable citizens in a democratic society.

In the educational circle, seminars to better train teachers started to cover the field of guidance in many parts of Japan.

Historical Development of Counseling In Japan

Counseling, in a narrow sense, has its root in the influence of the principle of Carl R. Rogers (or nondirective counseling) on Masashi Masaki, then a professor at Tohoku University, through Aurther T. Jersild, a child psychologist, who visited Japan to lecture on a special seminar for educational instructors.

Professor Masaki is said to have been much enlightened by the nondirective method, now called client-centered therapy or counseling. 

Two years after he was transferred to Kyoto University in 1952, he founded an educational counseling clinic where he, together with his colleague, Professor Seiichi Kuraishi, started supervising clinical practical training for graduate students.

In the 1950s, five lecturers led by W.P. Loyd visited Japan to grope for a new approach to Student Personnel Services (SPS) through various programs.

Between 1952 and 1953, a research assembly on SPS was held at Kyoto University, Kyushu University, and the University of Tokyo. The college faculties and officials who participated in the gatherings had enthusiastic discussions and arguments on the subject for the following three months.

The necessity of SPS was recognized at the assembly, which led to the establishment of Japan’s first counseling centers for students on both Hongo and Komaba campuses, the University of Tokyo in 1953.

Then, such national universities as Yamaguchi University, Kyoto University, Tohoku University, and Nagoya University, together with private universities such as Rikkyo University, Keio University, Gakushuin University, and Japan Women’s University were seen establishing counseling centers for students.

Also in 1955, W.P. Loyd, F.P. Robinson, and E.S. Bordin visited Japan to have the same sort of assemblies as mentioned above. 

Participants were intensively trained for about three months, proving a big step forward in research and practices of counseling

In 1956, E.G. Williamson, who was well-known for clinical counseling, also visited Japan and offered a three-month-long intensive course on “Theories and Practice of Counseling” at the University of Tokyo. His approach was called directive counseling or clinical counseling.

Related: History of Guidance and Counseling In Tanzania (1961 to date)

1958-1968: The Need For Guidance and Counseling in Japan

In the following period, Japan increased its political and economic strength and became a member of the international economic society.

School education introduced such an excessive curriculum that some students were unable to master it. Such neurotics as dropouts and those refusing to attend school began to emerge.

Human relationships at home were overshadowed by rapid economic growth. At school where students were to compete harshly, the perfectionists and the nervous started complaining of bad physical conditions and mental symptoms appeared.

There were sufferings from bodily resistance toward school. College entrance examinations became too much of a hurdle to overcome easily and words such as “examination hell” began to be widely used.

The number of students entering high school increased, and even college education was considered a “must” for everyone. However, not all students could get into competitive colleges.

A psychiatrist called this phenomenon the “Narrow Gate Syndrome”. This phenomenon became a characteristic of Asian countries such as Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

Besides these changes in the educational circle, problems such as pollution and environmental destruction broke out in the intense effort to become full-fledged members of a competitive international economic society. 

Factories discharged smoke and wastewater harming human health and polluting the sea. Deforestation became serious, and the problems of pollution piled up. 

The Japanese were called “economic animals” abroad because the Japanese companies were notorious for their ruthless manners to compete.

Now, let us take a look at how counseling developed under these socioeconomic conditions. The year 1961 became a landmark in the development of counseling. 

First, the “counseling section” was established in the Japanese Association of Applied Psychology. Along with it, leading scholars in psychotherapy such as C.R. Rogers and D.E. Super visited Japan from the United States.

Above all, the visit of Rogers had a strong impact on the educational and industrial circles. He was the one who was strenuous and active in both the practice and research of “nondirective counseling” and/or “client-centered therapy”. 

During his two-month-long stay from March 1961, he enthusiastically fulfilled his schedules of lectures and seminars in many parts of the country.

Rogers made his healing theory public in a professional journal in 1957.

The impact of Rogers was enthusiastic. What he left in Japan was incorporated into the planning, management, and contents of counseling workshops: it could be added that it became widely practiced in Japan. 

The client-centered therapy of Rogers surely gave such a strong impact that it is now regarded as the mainstream. 

Yet, it is noteworthy to remember that two academic associations were founded in this period. One was the Japanese Association of Clinical Psychology (1964), and another was the Japanese Association of Counseling Science (1967).

The latter was later renamed the Japanese Association of Counseling in 1987. These associations have not only covered research and presentations of studies on counseling but also taken up such issues as training and authorization of qualified counselors.

Also in 1957, the Japanese Society of Industrial Counselors was founded to start training industrial counselors.

Related: Counseling Association of Nigeria (Overview, History, and Achievements)


The societal background of this period was considerably bustling and unstable. The outbreak of the Vietnam War (1959-1975) gave rise to anti-war movements and strife, mainly led by students, worldwide.

The Great Cultural Revolution shook China, and the medical strife joggled Japan.

The political and economic situation was characterized by freed dollars in 1972, the oil crisis in 1972, and the subsequent devaluation of the Yen.

The academic circle witnessed a struggle between old traditional thinking and theory, and the new ones.

In the Japanese Association of Psychiatry, psychosocial-oriented psychiatrists began to part from those with the biological orientation of the traditional Kraepelin school. 

Yet the so-called “university dispute” spread all over Japan. One of the issues the dispute took up was the struggle for the promotion of the welfare of the socially weak.

Above all, radical activists fought for the abolition of discrimination, segregation, resentment, etc., against the handicapped.

The Japanese Association of Clinical Psychology mentioned above was also strongly influenced by the sequences of these cataclysmic changes. 

The establishment of the “Certification System for Professionals of Psyche” was suspended, although it had been a long-pursued goal. The Association itself fell into what E.H. Erikson called an “identity crisis”.

In the field of counseling, this marked the first period in which those who had received education and training in counseling in such countries as the United States and Switzerland returned to Japan. 

They introduced ideas and skills of counseling different from those of the Rogers school. Then, some Japanese started to advocate truly helping people, on firm theoretical bases. 

Related: How To Advocate for Guidance and Counseling


During this period, Japan as a full-fledged member of the international society, with the recognition of the expectant advent of the aged society, started to pay a great deal of attention to welfare, under sluggish economic conditions.

People began to pursue the richness of the mind and human nature rather than try to fulfill a material desire for things including daily necessities. Yet, society and the educational circle were calm and stable as a whole.

The university dispute ended, and students became apathetic and seemed empty. They indulged in play and showed infantilism.

On the other hand, many cases of domestic and school violence started to be reported (Domestic violence refers to violence mainly by adolescent boys) in the late 1970s. 

Also, the number of students who refused to go to school steadily increased. This phenomenon spread not only in urban areas but also in rural areas. Then, the problem of bullying and bullied students appeared while school violence became inconspicuous.

Not a few bullied students tragically committed suicide to give up living at an early stage. Moreover, juvenile delinquency increased to hit the third peak widely recognized as part of education and social problems.

A new academic association was established to respond effectively to the social and individual needs of anybody. Academic associations, both new and old, began to pay a great deal of attention to the issue of “authorization” to be qualified counselors.

It was until lately that local authorities, academics, and, sometimes, priests tried to solve problems in the minds of residents in their areas. That is, the need for “experts of mind” could not be ignored, and its authorization was indispensable.

In the psychological circle, the Association of “Japanese Clinical Psychology” came into being in 1982 to tackle the issue of the authorization system.

The first step forward was made in 1978 when the issue was included in the agenda of a symposium at the Japanese Association of Psychology. The “assembly of psychological counselors” was first held during the following year.

The number of participants in the assembly increased from year to year, which eventually led to the foundation of the Association of Japanese Clinical Psychology in 1982.

The Japanese Association of Humanistic Psychology was also founded in 1982 to give out studies, and to hold symposiums on many various themes concerned with humanity.

Yet, the Japanese Association of Counseling Science established the system of authorization of counselors in the association in May 1986. 

Thus, academic associations concerned with counseling, independently or unitedly, had striven the establishment of the authorization system since the late1980s.

1987: The Rise of Mental Health Counseling In Japan

All through the past forty years, Japan has steadily developed economically. However, nuclear families have increased and society itself has been aging, people feel isolated, and fathers have been seen apart from their families for years on business.

Yet, with society being “internationalized”, the number of families living abroad and returning students growing, and international students have increased.

Some of them have found difficulties in “cross-cultural” communication, failing to adapt themselves to new surroundings. With the advent of the “information age” and the “control-oriented” society, people have become more alienated.

Numerous problems concerning mental health and social welfare have arisen in every age group from infants to the aged, groups living in all spheres of life from home, school, working places, and community to cross-cultural domains.

In this rapidly changing society, the Mental Health Law was amended in 1987, and the Social Workers Law and the Homehelpers Law were enacted in May of the same year.

Then a test to obtain a qualification for social work was first given by the government. Synchronizing with this move, the Japanese Society of Certified Clinical Psychologists was founded in March 1988 under the cooperation of fifteen (later, nineteen) academic associations concerned to put forth authorized counselors in Japanese society.

It has been no more than 40 years since counseling was introduced in Japan. Ideas and skills of counseling have widely penetrated all stages of education, first in higher education and then in elementary and secondary education.

Besides, today, counselors put their skills and knowledge at the disposal of any institutions serving therapeutic assistance such as hospitals, mental health centers, etc.; also in Family Courts, juvenile detention homes, reformatories, prisons, etc.

Current State of Guidance and Counseling In Japan

The practice of counseling today covers a very wide range of people from those complaining of serious and complex psychological problems to those who have relatively healthy psychological lives. Qualified counselors try to meet a great variety of demands.

Related: 9 Qualities of An Effective School Counselor

Moreover, some people receive counseling at certain places during certain periods to promote positive mental health, though they do not have any problems with their mental health. 

The “Basic Encounter Group” as a collective experience well represents a type of helping practice serving these people. Serious neurotics though are advised.

For, through this method, they would rather tend to aggravate their problems, or they might give trauma to other members of their groups. Experienced qualified facilitators are indispensable to managing the basic encounter groups smoothly.

As we have seen, today’s counseling, on the one hand, consists of such “therapy-oriented models” as psychotherapy which help those who have problems with mental health in the course of diagnosis and therapy.

On the other hand, it includes “educational -development-oriented models” which positively promote humanistic growth and development of individuals and groups. That is, it could be compared to a baseball defense which covers a wide range of areas from an infield to an outfield.

The wide spectrum of today’s counseling is said to comprise innumerable elements, either implanted from other countries or originally developed in Japan.  Here are the different schools of counseling in Japan today.

  • The directive school
  • The non-directive school called today the person-centered approach
  • The analysis school
  • The Jungian school
  • The behavioral school
  • The Gestalt school
  • Naikan therapy
  • Morita therapy
  • Encounter groups
  • Psychodramas
  • The transactional analysis
  • Family therapy.

While counseling is practiced through verbal communication as a means, “play therapy” is used for infants and children.

Challenges Affecting the Development of Guidance and Counseling In Japan

The historical growth of counseling and guidance in Japan has been characterized by several difficulties. These are a few of the difficulties:

Cultural and traditional constraints

In Japan, cultural barriers have posed a significant challenge to the growth of guidance and counseling. Western counseling theories that promote individualism and self-expression are frequently at variance with the conformity, harmony, and collectivism of traditional Japanese culture.

Related: Traditional Guidance and Counseling (Characteristics, Advantages, and Limitations)

Lack of Understanding

In the early years, the concept of guidance and counseling was poorly understood in Japanese society, which led to a lack of demand for and interest in these professions.

Reluctance to Adopt New Approaches to Counseling and Guidance

While Japan’s traditional educational and employment system has long been considered one of the greatest in the world, there has been resistance to change.

Inadequate Resources

The development of guidance and counseling in Japan has been significantly hampered by the lack of resources, including competent counselors and guidance practitioners.

Stigma Connected with Mental Health Issues

In Japan, people have been discouraged from seeking counseling or therapy due to the societal stigma associated with mental health conditions. The growth of guidance and counseling in Japan has been significantly hampered by this.

Lack of Recognition

Before recently, the Japanese government did not recognize the careers of counseling and guiding. Low pay, a lack of job security, and a lack of incentives for practitioners to pursue a career in guiding and counseling are the results of this lack of recognition.


Despite these difficulties, guidance and counseling development in Japan has advanced significantly. 

The Japanese government has put in place regulations to support mental health and well-being, and guidance and counseling services are now more readily accessible in businesses and educational institutions.

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