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Counseling Skills

Discuss about the Understanding Counselling Skills And Psychotherapy.

The definition of counseling varies depending on the theoretical perspectives, the range of the problems being solved, and the variation of counseling approaches that are used by counseling professionals. As a way of trying to understand what counseling is, counseling is defined as follows. According to Milne & Milne (2010) counseling is a process of intervention and development by focusing on the client's goals whereby the counselor tries to impose a change to the client. The role of the counselor, in this case, is to concentrate on the client’s needs by giving him/her choices which will help change behavior and thoughts.  Counseling can also be defined as the use of professional skills and principles to establish a relationship with a client in order to facilitate personal growth, optimal acceptance, and self-knowledge. Based on this definition, the primary aim of counseling is to give a person an opportunity to live a successful and a resourceful life despite the challenges that they may face in life.  The other definition of counseling is a service sought by those people who may be undergoing emotional distress and confusion as a way of finding a solution to a problem in a way that is more professional and confidential that friendship (Grafanaki, 2010). The above are some of the few definitions of counseling and they all revolve around a client who is determined to get solutions for health, emotional, career, and other personal problems.

Recently, counselors are working with different individuals who possess diverse problems and needs. Therefore, to be considered as a successful and effective counselor, there are some skills and attitudes that one is needed to possess, some of which are learnt along the way. A counselor has to make a client relaxed and at ease so that they can gain trust to pour out their problems without the fear of contradiction. Below are some of the skills that a trained counselor should possess.

  • Active listening skills

Being a person who can listen to others as they talk without interrupting them is very crucial when it comes to counseling. Although this may seem baseless and a no-brainer, being a good listener is a very vital skill in counseling.  Being a counselor, having the ability to actively listen to what is being said, how it is being said, and why it is being said is the initial step of developing a rapport with a client in order to gain their trust as pointed out by Rautalinko (2013). Listening to a client and paying attention as they speak makes them feel that you are concern about their feelings and as a result, they end up sharing their concerns freely.

Questioning and Summarizing

Another important thing that a counselor needs to do is to listen between the lines in order to speak for things that are not being said. Sometimes, a client may not share everything but as a counselor, it is crucial to understand things that a client omitted during the session. Often, clients go to clients with so many complicated issues hoping to get a space to share their problems without feeling shame or guilt. Therefore, a counselor must listen without being judgmental or jumping to conclusions. To develop a trusting and growing relationship with a client, it is essential for a counselor to remain non-reactive in order to make accurate evaluation and assessment according to Egbochuku (2010).

An effective counselor is able to question and summarize most of the details of what the client has said and reflect them back to the client within a short period of time. During a counseling section, a client has the freedom to share any information they feel necessary and they end up saying so many things. As a counselor, it is crucial to capture the essence of what the client is saying and rephrasing. This is best achieved by asking the clients questions to confirm that what is captured is right. A counseling section is supposed to be interactive whereby the counselor engages the client by asking questions between the sections and reaffirming the main points summarized from the conversation. An effective counselor is also able to attend to verbal and non-verbal communication from the client and pull together the key parts from the communication and then respond accordingly without making any judgment (Young & Valach, 2016).

  • Empathetic responding

The ability to empathize with other people and show genuine concern towards them must come from within. Instead of feeling sorry for the client, the counselor is able to receive and support the client through the problem they are facing at that moment. Being a counselor is that need to sit down with others throughout their best and worst moments (Milne & Milne, 2010). The driving force behind counseling is that need to listen to other people stories however long or difficult they may be. Empathizing involves entering the clients world through emotions, thoughts, and feelings. As a counselor, empathy means being there offering solutions to people ten, twenty years down the line without feeling tired or bored. Empathy helps clients heal first because they feel that someone is concerned about their well-being (Culley & Bond, 2011).

  • Goal-setting

Importance of Empathy

In a systematic study, Milne and Milne (2010) point out that one of the most effective ways of motivating oneself and others is goal setting. An effective counselor sets goals that he/she must achieve within a given period of time. in counseling, this helps counselors to work extra hard to see that they have achieved what they wanted with their client. People go to counselors hoping to find solutions to their problems and thus, counselors have the duty of doing everything possible to ensure that they offer a solution. Setting long term goals helps counselors achieve more and it motivates them to work even harder. This can also be passed to the clients who have difficulties in achieving success when they are faced with challenges in life. A counselor can guide a client on how to set personal goals and how to achieve them within the set time.  

  • Self-disclosure

A good counselor is able to share personal experiences and views concerning a given situation as a way of motivating a client (Milne & Milne, 2010). Self-disclosure is that ability to look down within you and identify your needs and desires with those of your client. In layman’s language, it means putting oneself into the shoes of the other person. Using this skill helps the client overcome loneliness and anxiety because they know that they are not the only one who has that problem. This ability makes a counselor think well and act well towards others. This skill is also helpful in creating relationships based on mutual trust between the client and the counselor. Through this way, the counselor is, therefore, able to act well, empathize, and relate well with others (Odaci, De?erli & Bolat, 2017).

Generally, having the ability to use the above mentioned skills is what makes an effective and successful counselor. Medical professionals, social workers, teachers, and policemen to mention but a few can do counseling. Being a counselor means listening to people, talking to them and offering solutions, we live in a troubled society where we want to have someone who can listen without judging. As counselor, the following are some of the ways that can help use the above mentioned counseling skills effectively.

Be genuine- counseling involves a lot of communication whereby the client is the one who does most of the talking. The listening skill is very crucial because it means that the counselor is supposed to listen to what the client is saying without interrupting. Sometimes the counselor may not be able to understand some of the things that the client is saying. As an effective counselor it is ok to check and ask for more information where he/she feels that there is a gap. This greatly helps the counselor to avoid making mistakes when advising the client.  

Goal Setting in Counseling

Avoid repetition- as earlier mentioned, questioning and summarizing is one of counseling skill that is crucial in a counseling section. A counselor gives the client the freedom to do most of the talking as he/she listens and asks questions where necessary. Through this a counseling section becomes interactive and this helps the client build confidence.  However, it is advisable as a counselor to avoid repeating the words that have been said by the client. In other words, avoid being a parrot. Use your own words when asking for clarification and when reflecting back to what the client has said. This shows that the counselor is following in the conversion and is interested to know more.

Act indifferently- showing empathy to clients makes them feel that someone really cares for them. People go to counselors hoping to get a shoulder to lean on during their lowest moment. In this case, a counselor is likely to hear shocking and unbelievable stories. It is necessary to avoid using shocked disbelieving tone when reacting to a client’s story. Doing this shows that the speaker is odd or unbelievable and this may ruin the whole counseling session. The most appropriate thing to do is to start by assuring the client that you understand their situation and you are willing to help them overcome whatever that they are going through.

Be brief- the skill of active listening is what makes an effective and successful counselor. Being able to listen and summarize as the client talks is crucial because it gives the client the assurance that someone is ready to listen to them. It is human nature to want to be listened to without being judged or interrupted. As a counselor therefore, it is advisable to be brief when asking questions and reflecting back about what client have said. Avoid dominating the conversation but instead, let the client do most of the talking without unnecessary interruptions. Additionally, when using personal experience and stories to relate with the client’s situation, avoid talking too much and just make it very brief. This gives the client enough time to share everything they have to say without leaving anything out.

Although it is essential for a trained counselor to practice the above skills, sometimes it is a bit challenging to apply these skills due to the inability of the clients to express themselves. One of the challenges experienced during the mock session is that the clients had more problems than she said during the session. From the way she took a lot of time to answer a question, it was clear that she had a lot of things going through her mind. Counselors are not magicians who can give solutions to all problems even those that they are not aware of (Culley & Bond, 2011). Secondly, the client seemed delicate and emotional. This made it hard as a counselor to understand how she would react since it was the first day. Sometimes, it becomes difficult for a counselor to understand the body languages of their clients (Fernando, 2012). During the session, the client would raise her hands and shake her head. It was difficult to clearly understand what she intended to communicate with these body movements because it could mean a lot of things. Another personal challenge of practicing counseling skills from the mock counseling session is the inability of the client to express themselves due to fear and anxiety (Young & Valach, 2016). Generally speaking, counselors need to get the clients confidence and trust as the initial step of finding a solution to their problems. It can be challenging as a counselor to practice, sympathy and identify with their clients if they do not clearly understand what someone is going through.


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Culley, S., & Bond, T. (2011). Integrative counselling skills in action. London: SAGE.

Egbochuku, E. (2010). Counselling Communication Skills: Its Place In The Training Programme Of A Counselling Psychologist. Edo Journal of Counselling, 1(1). doi: 10.4314/ejc.v1i1.52380

Fernando, S. (2012). Communication skills and counselling. Sri Lanka Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 34(2), 69. doi: 10.4038/sljog.v34i2.4832

Grafanaki, S. (2010). ‘Counsellors in the making’: Research on counselling training and formative experiences of trainee counsellors. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 10(2), 81-82. doi: 10.1080/14733141003751655

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Odaci, H., De?erli, F., & Bolat, N. (2017). Emotional intelligence levels and counselling skills of prospective psychological counsellors. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 45(5), 622-631. doi: 10.1080/03069885.2017.1379596

Pieterse, A., Lee, M., Ritmeester, A., & Collins, N. (2013). Towards a model of self-awareness development for counselling and psychotherapy training. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 26(2), 190-207. doi: 10.1080/09515070.2013.793451

Rautalinko, E. (2013). Reflective listening and open-ended questions in counselling: Preferences moderated by social skills and cognitive ability. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 13(1), 24-31. doi: 10.1080/14733145.2012.687387

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Young, R., & Valach, L. (2016). Action and language: Contextual action theory in counselling. Psychologie Française, 61(1), 31-42. doi: 10.1016/j.psfr.2013.03.001

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