While the functions of coaching, counselling, and mentoring relationships have much in common, they are distinct professional activities and separate developmental approaches to human change. Counselling is carried out by a professional with some sort of qualifications ( for example, a certificate, master’s or doctoral-level education) in a specific and focused field of social/human science including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Addiction (substance abuse), Educational, Guidance/Career, Mental Health, Nutrition/Diet counselling, Rehabilitation, Relationship or social work.
Core Counselling Skills
- Active Listening
- Genuineness or Congruence
- Empathetic Understanding
- Concreteness or Specificity
- Unconditional Positive Regard
How Core Counselling Skills Can Be Used in a Counselling Relationship and in Other Helping Activities
Active listening: As a helping professional, I avoid distraction or interruption, give attention to the client by listening attentively allowing the client to narrate their stories in detail.
Questioning: As a helping professional, I ask open-ended questions to help the client to expand in detail.
Paraphrasing: As a helping professional, I repeat back my understanding of the client’s detail to convey understanding and help simplify it for the client.
Reflecting: As a helping professional, I demonstrate that I capture the detail of the client through mirroring. That is, using the client’s words/languages/sentences to return or repeat what has been said by the client.
Summarising: As a counsellor, I always let the client know that the session is coming to an end. Also, to close the session by a concluding remark of what the client should do before the next session. This could involve a preparatory task or plan for action to be taken before the next meeting.
Congruence or Genuineness: This is my way of being real. That is, coming across as a genuine professional to my clients create an atmosphere for them to feel valued and worthy. For example, if my clients perceived me as unauthentic, this could generate distrust in the helping relationship.
Empathetic understanding: This is where I demonstrate my skills accurately and sensitively understanding my client’s emotions, feelings, and thoughts by walking in their shoes without sympathetic feelings.
Unconditional positive regard: I always distinguished between the clients’ beliefs and actions and who they are as an individual. In doing so, it makes them value themselves as goal-getter; pursue their goals, develop, and realise their potential.
For example, I have used my empathy, congruence, and unconditional positive regard skills within the client-centred approach to help clients achieve their personal growth. This has worked well in facilitating positive growth and change in my helping relationships.
Challenging: Sometimes, in helping relationships, I tried to avoid confronting my clients when the situation becomes upsetting. This is to prevent provocative responses from both client-counsellor sides. Rather, I sensitively use my persuasive skills to challenge them in a meticulous manner.
Immediacy and Concreteness (Specificity): Immediacy in counselling is an advanced skill. Immediacy is the ability of the counsellor/helper to use the immediate situation to invite the client to look at what is going on between them in the relationship. It often feels risky and unfamiliar. It implies the use of the present tense. It can be one of the most powerful skills in counselling. I always use these skills to help my clients to identify, work, and focus on a specific issue or problem. Here, I use specific or definite terms to capture the focus from the numerous issues presented by the clients. For example, as demonstrated in the core counselling skills demonstration video below.
As observed within the video, I helped my volunteering client to stay on track with her team management problem. Therefore, the use of immediacy and concreteness in my helping relationship have always help to clarify ideas and define goals.
Reflecting on the Counselling Skills Demonstration
Being a demonstration of a real-life context, I utilised the S.O.L.E.R technique by choosing a quiet and conducive atmosphere, sitting squarely in a 5 O’clock open posture position which allowed me to engage actively and maintain eye contact with my client.
The frequent use of paraphrasing and reflection to show my understanding of the client’s story and to help her clarify the focus of the story. This is important because she started by saying she needs help with university life issue which seems broad. For example, when I repeat what she said by saying- ‘so the essay writing is getting in the way of the group coursework’, she swiftly clarifies that the problem is not deadline issue. Rather, it has to do with her group members’ lack of cooperation and taking responsibility.
Then by using open questions for prompting and probing, she was able to identify the main problem which is ‘team management’. For example, this was done by asking her the questions ‘how do you mean when you say it is too much for you’?
To conclude the session, I signal by indicating that the session will be ending, I gave her a plan for action for the next session which will allow her to get prepared and reflect on how things have changed by asking her to bring the record of her meetings with the team.
Boundaries to be Taken into Account When Starting a New Helping Relationship
Boundaries are important for both clients and counsellors as they set out from the start what is expected from both parties. Boundaries are agreed limits, within which psychological safety is provided, and it is the responsibility of the counsellor to maintain them. They may also be seen as implicit and explicit ‘rules’ and they protect both the client and the counsellor. Boundaries in counselling include:
Contracting: When starting a new helping relationship, I always agreed on a contract with my client. This contract states the ways I work; the frequency and number of sessions that I am offering the client, the technique or framework I work within, when to use phones or check e-mails (space and physical), disclosure, the duration and length of each session (time), the starting and ending time which enables my client to know when the helping process is coming to an end and also provides me time for a summary session.
Confidentiality and Disclosure: Having agreed on a contract, then confidentiality becomes paramount. I always make sure that I communicate clearly and openly to my clients about how their information is/will be used. In doing so, I give my clients the assurance that their information is safe with me and remain confidential. In turn, this gives my clients the opportunity to explore their thoughts and feelings, be more confident to freely and openly engage in the helping relationship process. However, creating an awareness of the limitations to confidentiality is another important aspect that I always consider when starting a new helping relationship. For example, in the past, confidentiality was broken when my client’s life was in danger due to harm and I had to refer her to other professionals. This was a physical abuse but created a psychological boundary for my client because of her experience which prevented her from getting close to people and making new friends (also known as rigid boundaries). So, I cautioned myself from tapping her on the shoulder during the helping relationship because this can be seen as an insult.
Creating these physical, time, and space boundaries provide a consistent framework and set out the structure for efficiency in the counselling process. As such, setting out explicit boundaries always helps me to effectively manage my clients’ demands and expectations. On the other hand, these boundaries help me to avoid an ethical violation by preventing me and my clients from exploitation (e.g. using the counselling relationship to advance religion or financial needs).
Trust: As a counsellor, I always take responsibility and accountability for the safety of my clients. For example, confidentiality- by handling or dealing with their information confidentially.
Respect: As a counsellor, I always relate to my clients with respect and treating them with dignity. For example. respecting their privacy and individuality.
Acceptance: As a counsellor, I always openly communicate and connect with my clients without judging them. For example, tolerating and accommodating my client’s feelings.
In summary, boundaries are the limits in our lives that we do not want others to interfere with. Therefore, I always consider both psychological and physical boundaries when starting a new helping relationship.
How to Agree Objectives For a New Helping Relationship
In agreeing goals and objectives, it is necessary first to establish the client’s aims and needs of the helping relationship. By exploring what the client hopes to gain from the experience in terms of outcomes, it helps to shape a framework for the journey, to help give structure to the start, middle and end of the relationship.
From my experience, I always help my clients to identify his/her need, establishing the priorities which then inform the basis for goal setting. This clarification of the client’s main goal is very crucial because most people do confuse what they want with their needs. For example, when they are asked to produce a list of their need they end up supplying a list of what they did not want. My technique to help them gain focus is by using ‘most’ (need) and ‘least’ (want) important objectives. On several occasions, this technique has proven effective.
After the clarity of the main goals, the next step is to consider whether the client has the required resources to accomplish those goals. For example, if my solo parent client with young children needs to attend a therapy session, does he/she has someone or require to pay for a carer to look after his/her kids. In essence, resources could be financial and non-financial. Then where this becomes a potential barrier, I help them to explore other options in order to fulfill their desired goals.
Then we collaboratively set a realistic timeframe that suit them. The timeline may vary depending on the type of goals. For example, is it a short- term (0-12 months) or long-term (1 year-above) goal or intermediate goal (daily or weekly).
Finally, I review and provide feedback on the progress.
In summary, this process is called ACTION PLANNING.
Effective Use of Core Counselling Skills in Developing Helping Relationship
Here, I will look at how using the core conditions have helped to move my clients forward. For example, to stimulate positive progress in my helping relationships, especially in scenarios where I have used the client-based approach which is non-analytical and non-diagnostic, it provides emphatic understanding, genuineness, challenging, and unconditional positive regard.
Through the use of empathy, I understood my client’s feelings and thoughts as has been experienced by him/her.
With my congruence skills, my clients always perceived me to be genuine with them because I make efforts to understand them and help them find solutions.
By utilising my unconditional positive regard skills, my clients always felt valued and worthy of helping relationships.
I have used challenging skills to empower my clients to become experts in their own problems. This makes my clients to be connected with their true self. By helping my clients to feel connected with their thoughts and feelings, it enabled them to take responsibility for working toward their own decisions.
Further to this, the application of the core counselling skills is effective when there is a change to where the client was and who they are now or after ending the helping relationship. This is measurable when the client’s desired goal is achieved. Goal achievement is when the client feels fulfilled. As such, as a helping professional I have been able to utilised the competence of my counselling skills effectively.
In summary, the use of genuineness, unconditional positive regard, challenging, and emphatic understanding encourages positive changes in my clients.
Useful Strategies for Ending Helping Relationships
There are many strategies for ending a helping relationship. Some of the most effective ones that I have used include looking back to what the objectives were and looking forward to the outcome or achieved goals. The ‘looking backward’ constitutes the review, feedback, and acknowledging the client’s success. The ‘looking forward’ constitutes helping the client to devise strategies and future plans should any barriers arise again.
As described earlier regarding contracting, it is best practice to always base the ending of helping relationships on the initial contract; as planned in the contract agreed between me and my clients. This is significant in respecting and valuing a client’s purpose for help. With great care, I always terminate helping relationships based on the assessment of the purpose and goals and how they have been attained, the various issues and how they have been solved, and the areas for development and insight.
By assessing what has worked well and those that have not in helping relationships, it gives my clients the positivity to look into the future with confidence in tackling other potential issues and challenges that may arise. However, I do reassure them of my availability for helping out in the future if required.
How should these endings be handles bearing in mind the possible emotive nature of the subject? Some of other strategies for terminating helping relationship include a plan of action for my clients to keep on track with their progress, a review of the helping process, a distancing period where a long term relationship has been committed, signposting them to other useful resources, and giving assurance that I am there for them if the need arises in the future.
In summary, endings in counselling may be planned or unplanned. Endings can be difficult or painful, but at the same time offer a great growth opportunity for clients who have previously experienced traumatic endings. Ideally, you and the client should be aware that the last counselling session is approaching, and that you are preparing for this ending.
Impacts of Ending a Helping Relationship
Ending can be very emotive. A counselling relationship is as much about the helper as it is the client and helpers, particularly in the early stages of their training and if the ending is unplanned can be left feeling unconfident and a failure. On the flip side, a successful ending can boost confidence in both parties.
For self-awareness, it may be useful to reflect on your own experience of endings, both negative and positive, noting what feelings you were left with and how you moved forward.
If endings do continue to impact the counsellor, then it is possible they have unresolved endings themselves and may need their own personal therapy to deal with this. So, I look at impact from both a client and a helper’s perspective.
Client: Sometimes, the client feels upset; particularly, in a premature relationship some clients became regressed as they hoped for continuity, feel angry, anxious, apathetic, and loss, because they are getting attached to and considered me as the only mechanism they depended on for support.
Counselling professional: Like my client, I sometimes felt upset too. This is because I always think I could have given them more or supported them further. But very sad that I can only give what I have.
However, the experience of the helping process is different when goals are accomplished. For example, we both sense and feel positive about life knowing that a solution has been identified
Key Elements of Psychodynamic as Counselling Theory
Psychodynamic origin can be traced to Sir Sigmund Freud in the 1940s as a slow and detailed therapy. It can help to deal with anxiety, social isolation, depression, and anger. The main principles underpinning the theory include (i) the assumption that using free association can provide further support to exploring and understanding the client’s issues. (ii) the assumption that internal experience influences the client’s interaction with others. (iii) the ideology that the process evolves from the past or experience of the client’s childhood (iv) and the notion that ‘insight’ (comprehensive understanding) is crucial to the achievement of positive outcomes.
Insight is one of the key elements in psychodynamic because it facilitates clarity and understanding. Insight is used to pull the unconscious thoughts of the clients by helping them to identify subconscious thoughts and understand how those thoughts influence their behaviour. Here, my reflecting skills allow me to look closely at thoughts, feelings, and reactions expressed by my clients. Therefore, insight is gained when my clients notice or identify the causes of their problems and afterwards these problems stopped, or conflicts resolved.
Some other prime elements of the psychodynamic approach include:
(i) The belief that our psychological challenges have their places in our unconscious mind
(ii) The use of my open questioning skills to prompt and probe the unconscious state of my client’s mind brings those problems to the conscious state of mind to generate insight.
(iii) Therefore, it is significant to know that the unconscious mind affects the client’s behaviour.
(iv) And that the way we behave is affected by what we have experienced and genetically inherited as well as what is currently taking place in our lives.
In addition to all these, there are transference and counter-transference reactions in the psychodynamic approach. On the side of my clients, transference may happen when they unconsciously display or transfer attitudinal and emotional reactions from their history or past relationships. These emotions and attitudes become counter transference when I display my reactions toward their recipient (making efforts to comfort or tolerate them). However, while it is important to acknowledge that transference exists and it may occur in helping relationships, as psychodynamic counsellors we do not usually promote it. But we always help clients to discuss their feelings.
In summary, it is assumed that insight plays a major role than emotions and feelings when applying the psychodynamic approach. So, it is important as a counselling professional to have an awareness of insight. Insight occurs when thoughts and feelings are pulled from the unconscious to the conscious mind and this is where insight occurs, and the client can understand where their problems arise from and able to move forward.
Key Elements of Person-Centred Theory
Coined by the American psychologist, Carl Rogers, person-centred theory (PCT) is the client-focused approach. PCT counselling is humanistic in nature because of its emphasis on the ‘self-belief‘ and ‘self-discovery‘ of the client. That is, it focuses on my client’s own perception (ability to self-actualise) rather than my own interpretation of their thoughts. The assumption that individual perception of themselves affects their state of consciousness (You Can Do It). While my client will be leading the discussion session and finding ways to answer their questions, it is crucial for me as a counsellor to trust and encourage my client to reverse the situation maximising my client’s capability and strength. For example, this approach can be useful in counselling clients with mental health issues.
Due to the vulnerability of the client to his/her self-image, there is a lack of awareness of the incongruence.
As a helping professional or counsellor or therapist, it is important to be empathetic of my client’s experiences but to avoid my emotional involvement.
From my experience, my clients felt free to express themselves whenever I utilised my empathetic understanding, unconditional positive regard, genuineness, and non-possessive warmth skills. This is because trust is gained in helping relationships when I remained truthful and clients have been empowered to look within themselves for solutions to their problems.
For example, as a counselling professional, being ‘genuine‘ means admitting that I understand what my clients have said and vice-versa which enables me to demonstrate empathy rather than pretending. My ability to demonstrate ‘unconditional positive regard‘ implies that I am neither judging nor pressuring my clients but caring and accepting their strengths and weaknesses to facilitate change in them. Whereas, my ’empathetic understanding’ means seeing the world from my client’s perspectives and this can be communicated non-verbally via my feelings (sharing or mirroring of his/her emotions), thoughts (intellectually grasping his/her feelings), and behaviour (putting myself in his/her shoes). In return, this generated a ‘non-possessive warmth’- exhibiting a friendly attitude toward my clients through the tone of my voice, facial expression, my body language, gestures, posture, and maintaining eye contact with them. In summary, PCT is client focused and looks at the perception of the clients own thoughts and feelings and is non directive. Whilst there are many counselling skills, Carl Rogers strongly believed that it is the core conditions of Empathy, congruence and Unconditional Positive Regard, i.e. warmth, genuineness and empathic understanding would facilitate change in a client and must be present in the room in order for this to happen.
Key Elements of Cognitive-Behavioural Theory
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) holds on to the assumption that we learn from our personal experiences. As such, counselling is used to focus on the client’s ability to take responsibility for their behaviour, clarify the issues, and derive meaning from the significance of goal-setting. Unlike the psychodynamic theory where the counselling relationship focuses on the exchange between me and my client, in the CBT, the counselling relationship evolves. For example, by using role-play and assertive exercises to support our one-to-one session.
The main parts of the cognitive-behavioural approach include
(i) Helping the clients to challenge their irrational thoughts by focusing on and replacing them with rational thoughts. This is where my challenging skills sensitively play key roles without being provocative.
(ii) It helps my clients to develop problem-solving and decision-making skills.
(iii) It helps my clients to learn and develop new patterns of behaviour and thinking.
(iv) It helps my clients to achieve the agreed goal which is centred on their personal change. The cognitive-behavioural approach is vital for the client’s personal change because challenging behavioural problems are associated with the outcome from wrong patterns of behaviour and thoughts. In summary, CBT helps a client to learn new ways of thinking and is based on the basis that your thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes affect your feelings and behaviour, and teach you coping skills for dealing with different problems
Key Differences Between Psychodynamic, Person-centred and Cognitive Behavioural Theory
While the psychodynamic theory emphasis interpersonal exchange between the client and the counsellor jointly formulating positive strategies that can be adopted by the client to initiate changes, the counselling relationship develops during the CBT and person-centred emphasis self-discovery and self-actualisation.
CBT emphasis the ‘present’ in relation to current behaviour or thinking, psychodynamic assumes that personal experience or history shapes the way we interact with others and the person-centred assumes that the client’s self-directed behaviour can facilitate his/her personalised outcome. Further to this, while the psychodynamic approach helps my client to achieve the agreed goal which focuses on his/her ‘personal understanding’. With my active listening, questioning, reflecting, and paraphrasing skills, I use a psychodynamic approach to facilitate the understanding of the primary cause of my client’s problems. Also, psychodynamic is different from other approaches because I use it to equip my clients with coping strategies for handling future challenges and making provision for the techniques needed for my client’s progression. This suggests that insight plays an important role in the psychodynamic approach as it allows my client to make positive development. The person-centred approach helps my client to achieve the agreed goal which focuses on his/her ‘personal growth’ maximising my empathy, unconditional positive regard, challenging, and genuineness counselling skills. That is, unlike psychodynamic, person-centred does not rely on techniques, rather I use my personal qualities to develop empathetic and non-judgemental relationships. Therefore, in contrast to other approaches, person-centred encourages my clients to focus on their current subjective understanding.
Whereas, the CBT approach helps my client to achieve the agreed goal which focuses on his/her ‘personal change’. This suggests that CBT is an action-driven psychosocial approach because it is based on making changes to the thinking of my clients so their emotional state and behaviour can change. Therefore, unlike the psychodynamic and person-centred approaches, CBT is solution-based therapy which emphasis on a shared model of understanding of self-assessment- maximising my concreteness (specificity) skills to help my clients focus on specific issues.
In summary, unlike the use of psychodynamic to find the root cause of a client’s concerns, CBT envisages changes to irrational beliefs and behaviour. While person-centred focuses on the insight that ensues from my ‘client’s feelings’, psychodynamic focuses on the insight that emerges from the ‘unconscious thoughts’ of my clients.
How Person-centred, Psychodynamic, and Cognitive Behavioural Theories Underpin the Use of Counselling Skills
Psychodynamic may be used as a non-directive approach by encouraging my client to express his/her emotions and feelings or as a directive approach as I could be leading and guiding my client to focus or realise specific behavioural patterns and issues. It is interpersonally facilitated by both the client and therapist/counsellor. Insight and free association are ways of working with this approach.
Person-centred is non-authoritative and personally directed and used by the client. The therapy session is unconditional and allowing the client to share his/her experience without being judged. Self-actualisation and non-judgemental are ways of working with this approach.
CBT in counselling is used to understand why we think or act in a certain way. Counsellors use CBT to explore the current state of the feelings, thoughts, and emotions of the clients. Role-play and specific (assertiveness) exercises can be used to work with this approach. Homework often features in this approach to consolidate the learning in the counselling session and strengthen awareness.
Citation: Lamidi, Kafayat K. (2020) Chapter 2: The Counselling Profession. Global Self-Education Platform Series.