Qualities of a Counsellor

A counsellor is a person trained in the skills of:

  • listening to the client present with issues that are of concern to them;
  • asking supportive questions pertaining to those issues;
  • discussing options the client comes up, with as possible coping strategies; and
  • Encouraging the client to make their own informed decisions, giving practical information and planning follow-up.

For the counselling process to succeed, the counsellor has to demonstrate the following qualities: high levels of maturity and Understanding, thorough knowledge and experience; assurance of absolute confidentiality; accurate listening and Acceptance.

These Counselling skills can be broadly classified into two, namely, attending and responding skills. Attending skills are those that indicate that the counsellor is actually paying attention to the client. Responding skills are those demonstrated by the counsellor as they communicate back to the patient. These skills are important as they assist in confirming to the client that they have the full attention of the counsellor. They are also useful for the counsellor when practised appropriately, as they help to move the session along in a meaningful manner, with both parties fully understanding what each means when they say what they say.

Examples of Attending and responding skills are: Social skill; physically attending skills; Observing and Listening. Responding skills include: Questioning; paraphrasing and Summarising.

a) Attending Skills

i) Social Skills

These social skills include greeting people nicely, introducing yourself to the client and allowing the client to introduce themselves to you (mutual self-introduction), politeness and kindness. Politeness skills are the expression of one’s sensitivity to the feelings and opinions of others, of one’s gratitude to others and of one’s respect for others. Kindness skills involve having good wishes for others and the readiness to do something for others. Social skills assist to generate trust by showing that one is genuinely interested in the other and is a way of acknowledging other people and what they want to say.

ii) Physically

Attending Skills Physically attending skills are demonstrated by the following: Sitting position: Sit facing the client in an appropriate position (Be aware of the clients culture and what she may expect of you);Posture: Position yourself in a way that shows interest in the client; Making eye contact if the client feels comfortable; Eliminating any distracting behaviour such as yawning, looking at the wristwatch, narrowing the eyes, raising the eyebrows, harsh tone of voice, suddenly leaning forward, shuffling papers, or turning body away.

iii) Observing

Observing skills are the counsellor’s ability to see the client’s behaviour and pick up non-verbal messages in order to understand experiences. Observation can be from three points of view: Physical: e.g. body build, physical appearance, level of energy (that is whether client looks fatigued, happy, etc); Emotional: e.g. facial expression, posture, grooming; and Interpersonal: e.g. how they relate to you: positively, negatively, neutrally.

iv) Listening

Skills Active listening is the active process of paying undivided attention to what the client is saying and “what they are not saying”. Active listening helps establish rapport, trust, and bridges differences; it helps clients disclose their feelings; it helps gather information and create a base of influence; it helps clients assume responsibility. People want the presence of the other person not only the physical presence, but also their presence psychologically, socially and emotionally. Listening is an important part of effective communication and takes place at two levels namely the level of content or words and the level of feeling.

v) Reflecting feelings

This involves understanding a client’s emotional responses and communicating this back to him or her.

b) Responding Skills

i) Questioning

The type of questions used determine how the session progresses. This is because they can solicit answers that are brief, accurate, informative, misleading or vague. There are two types of questions that can be used: Close-ended Questions and open ended questions. Closed-ended questions solicit a “Yes” or “No” answer. These kinds of questions do not encourage the person being counselled to talk more. Open-ended questions allow the patient to express as much information as he feels is necessary when answering a question. These questions usually have: who, why, where, what, when, can and how at the beginning.

ii) Paraphrasing and Summarizing

Summaries are brief statements which bring together the key points from a counselling session. The purpose of summarizing is to help ensure that the counsellor and client understand each other correctly. The counsellor should review the important points of the discussion and highlight any decisions made. Summarizing should be used throughout the counselling session, not only at the end. Offer support and encouragement to clients to help them carry out the decisions they have made. Paraphrasing involves restating something that a client has said using different words in order to make clear what the client is saying.

Common Counselling Mistakes

The principles of counselling are easy to learn but difficult to apply and service providers can easily make mistakes, such as the following:

  • Controlling rather than encouraging the client’s spontaneous expression of feelings and needs;
  • Judging, as shown by statements that indicate that the client does not meet the service provider’s standards;
  • Moralizing, preaching, and patronizing i.e. telling people how they should behave or lead their lives;
  • Labelling, rather than finding out the person’s motivations, fears and anxieties;
  • Reassuring unwarrantedly i.e. trying to induce undue optimism by making light of the client’s own version of a problem;
  • Not accepting the client’s feelings by saying that they should be different;
  • Advising, before the client has had enough information or time to arrive at a personal solution.
  • Interrogating e.g. using questions in an accusatory way; ‘why’ questions may sound accusatory

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