Traditional Guidance and Counseling (Definition, Advantages, and Limitations)

Traditional guidance and counseling is an umbrella term that covers the diverse localized and nonprofessional guidance services found in most African communities that help them navigate through the difficulties and uncertainties of life before the advent of modern/western guidance and counseling.

It is provided mainly by family heads, community elders, religious leaders, traditional priests, and respected individuals.

Traditional guidance and counseling differs in its principles and practice from modern guidance and counseling and it also has its strengths and weaknesses.

Related: What Is Guidance and Counseling? (Overview, Scope, and Types)

10 Differences Between Traditional and Modern Guidance and Counseling 

S/NPrinciples and PracticeTraditional Guidance and CounselingModern Guidance and Counseling
1.Counselor trainingThere is no formalized training or qualifications to become a counselor. Experience gotten by age and leadership position is usually all that is needed.There are formalized training and minimum required qualifications to become a counseling
2.Counseling techniquesThe counseling technique used is majorly advice-givingVarious professional counseling techniques are used depending on the individual and issue and counseling session is not advice-giving
3.Presence of ethicsCounseling is not governed by specific ethics except by the limitations of morality and traditions of the communityCounseling is offered under specified ethics which if not adhered to can attract legal sanctions
4.Counseling environmentCounseling can be offered anywhere either counselor’s house, community hall, client’s house, or even while walking on the streetThere’s a minimum required specification for an ideal office where counseling holds
5.Counseling timelineCounseling is usually a one-time meeting between the counselor and client where the client is expected to know what to do afterwardCounseling is usually a continuous relationship between the counselor and client until the client feels satisfied with the outcome of the relationship
6.Counseling goalsThe goal of traditional counseling is usually to help the client fit better into the culture and expectations of societyThe goal of counseling is to help the client reach their desired goal even if it is counterculture
7.Counseling approachA directive approach to counseling is always used for traditional guidance and counselingBoth directive and nondirective approaches are used depending on the situation
8.Counseling interventionThe intervention provided is either talk therapy or the performance of spiritual ritesA wide range of counseling interventions is available
9.Counseling basisIssues are approached and solutions provided based on the personal experience of counselors and their spiritual convictionsIssues are approached and solutions provided based on strong scientific findings
10.Issues handledIssues are only paid attention to when they have an obvious effect on communal relationships of the community e.g marital crisisIssues are handled even when they have no obvious or direct effect on society e.g low self-esteem

Advantages of Traditional Guidance and Counseling 

1. Guidance personnel are readily available

Because there are no training programs or qualifications needed to offer counsel, counselors are abundant and readily available for whoever needs counseling.

Clients can easily walk up to the nearest family head or respected individual without any hurdles or stringent procedures. This satisfies the first principle of counseling that counseling is for everyone.

2. Guidance personnel usually have foreknowledge of clients 

In traditional guidance and counseling, the counselors usually have foreknowledge of the clients because they are either close relatives or community members.

There is therefore no search for anecdotal records or family history in providing counseling as against the challenge modern counselors face, sometimes getting inaccurate or insufficient information.

3. Clients have the opportunity of seeing several counselors

Traditional counseling is rarely a case of a client privately seeing one counselor without anyone knowing. Even if a client goes to meet one counselor, it is a common practice for the counselor to seek advice from other community elders to ensure that their counsel is truly beneficial.

This holds benefits for the client because they are not limited to the experience of just one counselor as in modern counseling where counselors only resort to referrals as the last option.

4. Clients already trust the counselor beforehand

One challenge that modern counselors face is trying to make clients open up to them (facilitation). Because the clients are most likely meeting them for the first time, they will not be totally open to sharing their lives and secrets with counselors which affects the effectiveness of the intervention.

But with traditional counseling, there is the building of trust between the counselor and client through communal living before a need even arises for counseling.

Also because there are several counselors available and there is no obligation of meeting just one person, clients usually choose who they trust and are willing to open up to for counseling.

5. Use of native language increases the effectiveness

Illiteracy is not a barrier in traditional counseling. There are also fewer communication issues because clients get to express their concerns and receive assistance in the language that they are most comfortable with.

This is not the case with modern guidance and counseling where, for instance, clients will be forced to communicate in the English language which may not flow naturally for them.

6. Traditional counseling is cheaper

Traditional guidance and counseling is cheaper than modern guidance and counseling. Except when the counselor is a traditional religious priest and there’s a need to perform certain spiritual rites, traditional counseling comes at no cost to the client.

Traditional counselors offer counseling as part of their communal lifestyle, not as a source of income.

Even when spiritual rites are performed or the client decides to show appreciation to the counselor, the cost is way cheaper compared to the cost of modern counseling.

7. There are fewer hurdles in the onboarding process

With traditional counseling, a client can notice an issue by 10 pm and walk up to the family head by 10:05 pm and receive counseling. This is not possible with modern counseling which has a more specific process of getting to see a counselor.

Because of the absence of these hurdles, there is less discouragement for clients because they don’t have to spend so much time thinking about the counseling relationship and preparing to meet a counselor.

With modern counseling, on the other hand, several people have been discouraged from counseling because of the fear of entering into that formal relationship.

8. There are similarities in the beliefs of counselors and clients 

We cannot deny the fact that humans are largely influenced and motivated by their belief systems. Typical communities where traditional guidance and counseling is offered consist of people who have the same traditions and beliefs.

This is beneficial firstly because the counselors understand the priorities and ideologies of the clients and the clients don’t have to spend so much time explaining their philosophies to someone it is strange to (as in modern counseling).

Secondly, and because of the first, the solutions provided by the traditional counselors are therefore more applicable to and appreciated by the clients than from a counselor who secretly thinks the client’s culture is primitive based on his/her level of exposure.

9. Intervention is quicker

Traditional guidance and counseling is rarely a case of a counselor and a client having several sessions until the situation is resolved. It is tilted toward guidance than counseling and this means the counselor and counselee only meet one or two times and things are expected to go fine from then on.

Modern guidance and counseling on the other hand goes through processes and the counselor and client get to meet severally before an end is reached. This demands commitment on the part of the client which can be too demanding for some and deter them from seeking help.

10 Disadvantages of Traditional Guidance and Counseling 

1. Interventions are influenced by personal biases and experiences

Intervention given by counselors in traditional guidance and counseling comes from their experiences and is influenced by their personal biases which may not always be the case for the client.

An elder in a polygamous marriage for instance might give counsel to a man whose wife is having difficulty in conceiving to go for a second wife because that was what worked for him. The young man on the other hand may not want that. This leaves people with unique experiences helpless.

2. Intervention is limited to advise giving 

Modern counselors don’t give advice— they help the clients understand themselves and their world better to make informed decisions. There is no room for this in traditional guidance and counseling.

The clients aren’t helped to understand themselves and their situations better; they are simply told what to do. Advice giving is not effective in every situation e.g depression.

3. Difficulty in assessing the effectiveness of the intervention

Traditional guidance and counseling is not objective, it usually doesn’t have counseling goals, and because of this, it is difficult to measure how effective intervention is.

After advice has been given, the client is left on his own with no follow-up and if the client keeps insisting that he hasn’t found a solution, he’s projected as the problem and left to find his way with his cross.

4. Forces social conformity 

Traditional guidance and counseling is aimed at helping the client fit better into society than it is at helping them become themselves. Because of this, any desire or outcome a client desires that is not popular with the culture of the community is stifled.

Also because the intervention is given based on the personal experiences of the counselor, an attempt is made to pattern the life of the client after that of the counselor who is believed to have attained success in that area.

5. Traditional counselors do not take scientific exploration of issues 

Many psychological issues are not addressed with traditional guidance and counseling. Complex issues not understood by counselors are attributed to spiritual sources or predestination which the client is meant to live with. This is because there is no scientific exploration of issues.

One suffering from schizophrenia for instance can receive help but since traditional counselors aren’t skilled in this area, the client is left to suffer.

6. Clients always have to return to the counselor 

Because the clients aren’t helped to understand themselves and their issues they cannot apply the lessons they learn from the counseling service to other life issues. Instead, whenever they face situations they don’t understand, they’d be forced to go back to the counselor.

With modern guidance and counseling, however, coping skills are taught. A client can be taught, for instance, to criticize his thoughts whenever anxieties are rising. This mechanism can be applied to several other issues like low self-esteem and loneliness.

7. Interventions are obsolete and do not apply to current life issues

The world is ever-changing and issues continue to arise in people’s lives that cannot be addressed by traditional counselors who have no formal training in addressing such issues.

For instance, a student who is having difficulty understanding a subject or someone needing LGBTQ counseling cannot be helped by traditional guidance and counseling.

8. Clients are vulnerable because of the absence of professional ethics

The activities of traditional counselors are not regulated by professional ethics. This leaves the counsellee at the mercy of the counseling personnel.

Their information can be disclosed, intervention rendered can be harmful, clients can be insulted, and many more without any measure of seeking redress.

Related: 5 Tips To Set Up A Minimalistic Therapist’s Office

9. Clients might withhold information for fear of being judged

Although on one end, being familiar with the counselor is an advantage as it brings trust, on the other end, it can stop the client from revealing sensitive information that can make the intervention more effective for the fear of being judged by someone they know.

A young boy who is becoming sexually attracted to his sister will find it difficult to reveal such feelings to the family head in the name of seeking help. He can however reveal such information to a professional counselor with the assurance that professional ethics are covering him.

10. Clients receive conditional positive regard

In traditional guidance and counseling, counselors treat clients based on their perception of them in society. They give respect to those who are considered respected in society and treat poorly those who have low social or economic status. This again is because the activities of traditional counselors are not regulated by professional ethics.


We have so far seen the definition, advantages, and limitations of traditional guidance and counseling. Because it is not all bad, both traditional and modern guidance and counseling can be combined to offer better services. For example, professional counseling can be offered in native languages to cater to the uneducated, or the option of seeing multiple counselors can be provided for those who would prefer it.

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