Who Else Wants To Know Why Americans Spell Counseling With A Single "L"? By Howard Rosenthal, EdD on 8/21/12 - 5:37 PM

A while back, when I opened my afternoon snail mail I received a card from Dr. Thomas W. Clawson, CEO of the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). Dr. Clawson asked in his correspondence if I knew why the words counseling and counselor are spelled with a single "L" in the U.S., while in England and Canada the words are correctly spelled with two "L's” (i.e., counselling or counsellor).

He then went on to answer his own question. The mystery, he noted, could be traced back to Frank Parsons, the so-called father of guidance and vocational counseling. It seems that the multi-talented Parsons was also trained as an attorney. To avoid confusion he would spell counseling or counselor with two "L's" when working in the legal profession (e.g., counsellor- at-law), but he used a single "L" spelling (i.e., counselor) to distinguish his work as a helper.

Clawson shared with me that his source for this information was none other than Dr. Joseph W. Hollis, a prominent figure in the counseling arena. Joe had been the Chairman of the Department of Psychology and Guidance Services at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. After thirty years of dedication to the university, he retired in 1984. But retirement for Dr. Hollis turned out to be the beginning of a new venture. He founded a publishing company, Accelerated Development (later purchased by Brunner Routledge, a division of Taylor & Francis), that he initially ran out of his garage. But the company blossomed and Joe brought a lot of the seminal titles to our field in the 80's and 90's. In addition, he was known for undertaking the first major study of counselor preparation programs. He also helped found and served as president of C-AHEAD, the Counselors Association for Humanistic Education and Development. I had the pleasure of coauthoring a book with Joe in 1994.

I emailed Dr. Clawson back to report that I had not only been privy to the story about Parsons, but my source was precisely the same as his: Joe Hollis.

At that point in time I became very curious and wanted to verify our hypothesis in a scholarly source. I searched near and far and was assisted by several talented college research librarians. I perused ancient tomes that had accumulated over nearly a century of dust (now I know why some books have dust jackets!) to no avail.

Since I came up empty handed, I thus contacted the one individual who I knew had publicly broached this subject, Dr. Samuel T. Gladding. Gladding is a noted counseling textbook author and a former president of the American Counseling Association (ACA) and the Association for Specialists in Group Work (ASGW). Indeed Dr. Gladding was espousing the identical explanation concerning Parsons. His source: None other than—you guessed it—Dr. Joseph W. Hollis.

For now, I'm sticking with the story because Joe never told me anything that wasn't the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth! Sadly, Joe passed away at the age of 80 on November 23, 2002, so we can't ask him where he acquired his information.

But hey, if you uncover something in the literature that proves we are wrong, just give me a holler. I'm all ears.

File under: A Day in the Life of a Therapist, Therapy Humor, Musings and Reflections