Background Over the last decade, professional discourse around health ownership has been evolving to recognise an individually-driven wellness/wellbeing approach. Concurrently, dietetic competencies have changed to include client-centred counselling incorporating individual client's perspectives within dietary prescriptions. The present exploratory research aimed to explore how client-centred counselling practice was being represented in the dietetic literature and to examine dietitians' perspectives about working with clients in the current environment. Methods To explore the professional position, a literature search was conducted using keywords encompassing client-centred care and competency within professional dietetic journals (2001-2010). To develop a contextual case study, 10 in-depth interviews with dietitians delivering weight-loss prescriptions within a clinical trial were conducted. Recordings of their perspectives on roles, opportunities/barriers and counselling strategies were transcribed verbatim and examined using inductive thematic and content analysis. Results Eleven articles were incorporated into a narrative review describing practice issues related to traditional forms of consultation and the effectiveness of client-centred approaches. The over-riding theme from the interviews (Professional Identity Dilemma) highlighted tension felt by dietitians in their dual role as nutrition expert and counsellor, trained to deliver biomedical imperatives (clinical targets), and their challenge to accept client-defined health perspectives. Supporting themes (Adherence factors and Constructs of health) exposed details on barriers to dietary change and the impact of contextual factors on this change that were linked to wellness and wellbeing concepts. Conclusions Appreciating wellness and wellbeing concepts may add a useful adjunct to client-centred approaches to dietary counselling through building bridges between clinical targets and client health perspectives.