Some skills used by professional counsellors are similar to those used by anyone who listens carefully as part of their working role, or relationship. These skills include:
creating a warm and genuine relationship – sometimes referred to as ‘rapport’ – in which a person feels accepted, without judgement, whatever is said
giving a person full attention, actively listening and being mindful of what the client is communicating, verbally and non-verbally
making clear any ambiguous or generalised statements
showing attention and some understanding by putting what the individual says into the counsellor’s words
summarising some key issues that need attention, and promoting the exploration of these themes in order that the client can see some options for action.
A core counselling value is that counselling skills are used consciously to support the individual’s decision-making or feeling better, without the counsellor imposing his or her own view on what the client should do or even feel. This is in contrast to what a parent or good friend might do.
For example, as a parent, you may help your child in many ways; these include giving encouragement, providing unconditional love, giving money, being generous, creating laughter, practising discipline, giving ‘tough love’, and always being available.
As a good friend, you can offer loyalty, standing up for another person, honesty, money-lending, being fun to be with, sharing, occasional disagreements, availability and opinions.
In contrast, a counsellor will provide a safe space in which thoughts can be expressed openly, without fear of judgement, opinions or advice.
It is important that the person will feel responsible for his or her own choices (as opposed to heeding another person’s advice in a passive way). There may be no shortage of advice, platitudes and opinions by those people in the life of the client. However, a person with counselling skills will uniquely empower the client by facilitating a process of positive change. This relationship exists specifically for this, and does not stray into other roles.
What counselling is not
The word ‘counselling’ is sometimes used loosely to describe other activities. These include:
in schools, ‘counselling’ can be considered as ‘advice’ or even ‘instructions’ – with the aim of helping a person find the best course or job.
‘debt counselling’ is a term used to describe the advice given to people who receive financial help by suggesting budgeting plans, or paying off debts by making regular small payments.
in some settings such as the armed forces, the word ‘counselling’ is used to indicate that punitive measures are being taken against an individual who has been found to have committed a wrongdoing.
Counselling is not an opportunity for a counsellor to share personal experiences of and solutions for similar problems or preferred solutions for others.
If you are interested in exploring the subject of using counselling skills, you may wish to check out the Counselling courses available at the Academy for Distance Learning. There are also eBooks on the subject.