Counseling Skills

A skill is generally known to be the knowledge and ability that enables an individual to carry out an activity diligently. It is the ability to perform a task or activity following the required steps in a proper sequence. Counseling skills are the processes of facilitating positive lifestyles and making a difference in the lives of individuals. The process involves breaking down each task of counseling into a set of components, which could be inform of a task sequence in order to achieve a particular counseling goal. Counseling skills are activities that come into play in the process of using various techniques/strategies during counseling sessions. The skills are key facilitators of counseling relationships and thus counselors need to acquire appropriate counseling skills in order to practice as professionals. There are twelve counseling skills that are usually employed by professional counselors. These are:

  1. attending
  2. silence
  3. paraphrasing and reflecting
  4. clarifying and questioning
  5. focusing 
  6. building rapport
  7. summarizing
  8. listening
  9. empathy
  10. genuineness
  11. unconditional positive
  12. interpretation . 


  1. Attending 

Attending means being in the company of a person and giving full attention to what he/she is saying and doing; valuing him/her as a worthy individual. Attending involves paying attention to everything a client says and does. It includes reading the client’s body language and also taking into consideration all the silences and pauses in the conversation. In a one-to-one counseling relationship, it is a supportive service that a counselor must provide. Failure to do this will mean the client is not being supported fully, and he/she may not disclose fully or cooperate to achieve counseling objectives. Attending starts from the act of welcoming the clients warmly and making them feel comfortable during counseling. It also involves making the clients feel relaxed about disclosing information, and sharing their emotions, feelings and thoughts. By maintaining eye contact with the clients, a counselor shows they value what the clients are saying. Looking at the clients, as they speak, also shows that the counselor is concerned about their feelings. A counselor should also be aware of the tone of their voice during counseling. Slowing down speech will make the clients feel relaxed and less disturbed. It will also indicate that the counselor has adequate time to listen to the clients’ problems. The counselor’s facial expressions must also convey interest and comprehension. Tracking or following the flow of what the clients are saying, is a key skill that the counselor should display during counseling interaction. A counselor who is unable to display attending skills will not be able to provide the level of supportive service that clients need.

  1. Silence 

Silence is a temporary cessation of verbal communication. Silence can be used for the following reasons : 

  1. For the counselor, it can be used to encourage clients’ self-exploration, to allow clients to do more of the conversation, to enable the counselor to collect her/his thoughts and as a natural ending to a phase of discussion.
  1. For the client, silence can be used to make connections, to wait for words or images to occur to nurture and allow feelings to develop, to recover from “here and now” emotions, to elicit a response from the counselor, such as signifying a need for approval or advice, to enable the client to collect his/her thoughts, remember events, assess values and reflect on feelings.

3. Paraphrasing and Reflecting 

Paraphrasing is an essential counseling skill that can be used to facilitate free response by clients. Part of the ‘art of listening’ is making sure that the clients know that their comments are being listened to. This is achieved when the counselor repeats part of the clients’ story. This is known as paraphrasing. Reflecting occurs when the counselor describes in fresh words the essential feelings expressed by the clients. For instance, the counselor could say. ” In other words, you feel unhappy about the event”. If properly used, reflecting gives assurance to the clients. Reflecting contains the emotional and feelings of the clients while paraphrasing contains the main thoughts of the clients.

4. Clarifying and Questioning 

Clarifying means using questions to ensure that the counselor understands what is being said by the clients. In order to do this, the counselor needs to ask probing questions. The counselor can occasionally ask open questions to clarify what the client said so as to reflect on information and paraphrase correctly. Open-ended questions generally begin with ‘How…?’ ‘What…?’ ‘Who…? ” They require an answer other than ‘yes’ or  ‘no’. They may be used to gain information, explore thoughts, feelings, attitudes and opinions or to consider hypothetical situations ‘Why?’ questions are useful questions but should be carefully used so that they do not sound too judgmental. The clients should be motivated through questioning to progress from generalizations to specifics with more detailed information and clarity of points. Closed ended questions require a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answer and may be ineffective in terms of the replies given. Repeated use of ‘closed questions’ may result in inadequate provision of information and the counselor feeling pressured to ask more and more questions to keep the relationship going . Therefore, closed ended questions should only be occasionally used by counselors. 

5. Focusing 

Focusing involves making decisions about the issues that are of main concern to clients. It is a counseling skill that is particularly useful after one or two sessions, when the counselor has obtained relevant information from clients. Focusing is particularly useful when clients mention a range of issues and problems. Focusing allows the clients and the counselor to concentrate on the central issues of concern.

Focusing entails the ability of a counselor to redirect clients’ attention to a particular goal at a particular time. The counselor while discussing with clients should ensure that there is adequate concentration or attention on what is considered essential by both parties based on discussion. Focusing skill is about the need to attend to problems or feelings of clients as they arise during the course of a counseling process. The benefit of this is that clients are encouraged to work on present and particular problems where attainable goals exist. This is contrary to focusing on past experiences or early childhood experiences which cannot be changed or influenced easily. It leads to charting a direction in counseling sessions through the creation or formulation of counseling goals and action plan to achieve set goals. A good illustration is the ability of a counselor to re-direct the attention of clients from a trivial issue that is responsible for his problem to what should be done to avoid the occurrence of that problem in future so as to live adjusted lives. 

6. Establishing Rapport with a Client 

Rapport involves creation of warm and friendly relationships with clients. It means a sense of having a connection with clients. In order to perform effectively , counselors need to establish rapport with clients. Rapport is essential and thus it must be established regardless of the model of counseling being adopted by the counselor l. If rapport is well established, the clients will trust the counselor and a solid foundation will be established for effective counseling interaction. Unless clients feel a sense of rapport, they are unlikely to be able to work well with the counselor. To facilitate rapport, the counselors need to manage their own feelings toward the clients, and how they behave with the clients. Counselors could adopt the following strategies in order to create rapport: 

  1. Be prepared: prepared for counseling sessions, be calm and focused, always to be there for the clients, put personal issues and problems out of the way for the duration of the session.
  1. Provide a conducive environment: make the counseling environment conducive and appealing. Provide a restful, clean, uncluttered and pleasant setting. Seating arrangements should be comfortable, prevent intrusions or disturbances.
  2. Understand the clients: be familiar with the clients; know the clients’ names, remember important issues about the clients and be concerned about clients’ welfare.
  3. Show empathy: putting oneself in the position of the clients and for the counselor to see how the clients feel about things and how the clients perceive things.
  4. Display acceptance: accept clients the way they are, remain un-shocked, whatever the clients present, avoid being judgemental, be caring and show understanding; display Unconditional Positive Regard (UPR) to the clients.
  5. Be patient: do not rush the clients; permit them time to express their feelings. Show respect to the clients but be firm; do not promise to solve all the problems at a moment; be patient with clients who find it hard to talk about  themselves and encourage self disclosure.

7. Summarizing 

Summaries are longer paraphrases. They condense or crystallize the essence of what the clients are saying and feeling. Summaries usually cover a longer time period than a paraphrase whereas paraphrasing can be used after a few sentences. A summary may be used after sometimes; perhaps half-way through a counseling session, or near the end of a counseling session. The summary ‘sums up’ the main themes that are emerging. Summary is useful in: 

  • clarifying emotions for both the counselor and the client
  • reviewing the work done so far, and to take stock
  • bringing a session to a close, by drawing together the main points of discussion
  • starting a subsequent session
  • starting the process of focusing and prioritizing ‘scattered’ thoughts and feelings
  • moving the counseling process forward 

8. Listening 

This is a very important skill in counseling. It is a genuine effort to understand what a client has to say and to do so attentively without prejudicing the issue being discussed. Listening is the foundation upon which all other higher levels of helping responses are based and thus it should be effectively employed by counselors. Listening provides opportunity for understanding clients’ problems and the impact of the problems in their psychological well being.

9. Empathy 

This involves identification with clients’ concerns by assuming their frames of references. Counselors are required to show adequate understanding of clients’ internal frame of reference and endeavor to communicate the experience to them. The skill is employed to foster trust in therapeutic relationships to communicate understanding and to encourage deeper levels of self-exploration.

10. Genuineness

Counselors should be truthful in their relationship with clients . They should display wholeness, authenticity, congruence in their interactions. Counselors’ actions and messages should be clear, direct and free from ambiguities.

11. Unconditional Positive Regard (UPR) 

This is an essential counseling skill which requires the counselor to accept clients without reservation. Thus, a counselor should display positive attitudes to clients irrespective of their gender, background and limitations. Effective display of UPR provides clients with freedom which leads to a feeling of acceptance and safety. According to Omoegun (2009), clients who experienced UPR feel accepted and appreciated as human beings without being judged and feel safe to share life experiences with the counselor. Therefore, communication of warmth, respect and care is important in the development of positive regard.

12. Interpretation 

It is a counseling skill which involves provision of possible explanations for certain thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Counselors are expected to assist clients to understand some of the possible reasons for their behaviors and the need for modification. Through interpretation, counselors are expected to encourage clients to achieve deeper self-exploration. 

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By Teezab

His name is Tiamiy Abdulbazeet. He is a writer and loves to write about Education, and all types of news. If he is not writing, then know that he is playing a game!😃

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