A specialist award a course of study designed for people who already hold qualifications and/or experience in the discipline. While assuming that you already have a broad understanding of psychology, it acknowledges that you may have areas of weakness that you need to strengthen; whether that be in certain areas of counselling or the broader field of counselling. The course is designed to allow you to concentrate your studies on the areas you need to strengthen, without needing to revisit the other areas of psychology and counselling which you have already mastered.
Note that each module in the Specialist Award in Counselling is a short course in its own right, and may be studied separately.
There are differences between formal counselling and the use of counselling skills.
As we said in the introduction, a professional counsellor fulfills a different role to someone using counselling skills or techniques.
Formal counselling tends to occur for a shorter or longer term.
Formal counsellors will tend to base their counselling on a particular theory or theories.
They will receive supervision at regular intervals during their counselling.
They should abide by ethical guidelines and standards.
They should have a formal contract with their clients.
Formal counselling is undertaken by a counsellor within a professional setting, but many different professionals use counselling skills e.g. psychologists, psychiatrists, psychotherapists. This chapter will consider:
WHAT ARE COUNSELLING SKILLS?
There are a wide range of counselling skills and techniques that counsellors use. These can also be used by other professionals within their daily role. Counselling skills fall into three main areas: attending skills, listening skills, and influencing skills. We will now consider important counselling skills.
Many people will experience distressing or painful situations that they find hard to talk about. Active listening skills can encourage people to talk. Active listening helps people to talk through their problems by helping them to find a way to put into words what is troubling them. It may sound odd to consider “active” listening. I am listening, what needs to be active about it? Think about how you listen. How often have you been having a conversation with someone where you have been listening to them talk but whilst you are listening, you are thinking about what you want to say next, planning what to eat for lunch, interrupting them and so on. This isn’t really listening or paying attention. You are not REALLY listening to what they have to say, but thinking about what you are thinking about. Active listening means that you are really paying attention. So what is active listening?
With active listening, you may do some talking, but mainly you are acting as a sounding board for the person to discuss their difficult issue. Active listening should just encourage the person to talk, not influence what they have to say.
Think about this, someone is telling you something distressing and you say:
“I know, I had the same experience when.......”
“I know how you feel.”
“Try not to worry about, it will get better soon.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad, last week, this happened to me........”
All of these statements may be well-intentioned, but they could lead to the person stopping what they are saying, changing the subject or ending the conversation because they feel you don’t understand. With active listening this can be avoided. By listening actively you demonstrate to the person or client that you are interested in what they have to say. It is one of the chief skills in building rapport and trust in a client-counsellor relationship. Active listening is part of the repertoire of listening and attending skills a trained counsellor uses to help client’s to discuss their issues. The following skills are all part of the listening techniques.
The use of open questions is one method of active listening. Try to use questions that do not require a yes or no answer. This encourages the person you are speaking to, to open up more. So rather than say “Does this really bother you?” you could try “This sounds like it really bothers you. Tell me why?” The first question could be answered “yes” or “no” and that could be the end of the question. The second question requires the person to speak more, to expand on why the situation bothers them. This encourages the person to keep talking. So, if you want to encourage the client to talk more freely you should avoid questions like “Are you okay?” or “Does that help?” or “Do you want to talk more about this?” as this can shut down a conversation. Try instead to use questions like:
Do you want to tell me more about how you feel?
What would help you now?
Can you tell me more about this?
How did you feel when that happened?
All of these questions encourage conversation. They encourage the person to express their feelings, say how they feel. If you are not experienced in counselling skills, you may find this a little awkward at first. It may be artificial, but the more you do this the easier it becomes. Try asking open questions in your general conversation. You will be amazed at how much more people will open up, when it looks like you are really interested in what THEY have to say. It doesn’t just have to be when someone has a problem. You can also use open questions and active listening when people are talking to you about anything.
Often, open questions begin with the words: can, could, why, how or what.
Closed questions do sometimes have their place. Sometimes you want a person to make a definite decision or choice. So closed questions can be used to clarify something. For example, “So let me see if I’ve got this right, you are annoyed with your boss because he wouldn’t let you have last Friday off?” The client can then answer ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ This tells you that you are on the right track, you have understood what the person is saying. This also tells the person you are listening to that you have understood as well.
As we said above, open questions allow conversations to flow more freely and encourage conversation and debate, so are more useful in exploring client issues. But closed questions are more useful for obtaining brief factual information. They are also useful for bringing focus to an interview situation, though the onus is on the counsellor to guide the interview.
Often, closed questions begin with the words: do, is or are.
Whether asking open or closed questions, they should not be overused. Too many questions may make a client feel as though they are being interrogated. Alternatively, they may feel overcome with anger or guilt. Also, the guiding nature of questions may be too authoritarian for some. Indeed for some non-Western cultures questions are deemed inappropriate.
Another element of active listening is paraphrasing. It is a way that the counsellor can say back to the client what they have heard using some of the client’s own words. It is not merely repeating back parrot-fashion what the client has said, rather it is an abbreviation of the client’s statements using several of the client’s key words along with a few of the counsellor’s own words.
For example, a client might say: “I’ve had a terrible week - my car broke down, my cat has run away, I’ve got a cold, work is stressful, and my neighbour is pissing me off.”
To paraphrase, the counsellor might say: “You’ve had a terrible week because lots of things have gone wrong.”
Again, paraphrasing demonstrates to the client that they have been heard and understood. Done properly, a paraphrase will stop the client from feeling that they have to keep repeating the same information and can go on to discuss and explore other issues.
Sometimes we want to avoid difficult things. We can avoid saying them. A person you are speaking to might do this. They may avoid saying something, but their body language tells you it is a difficult thing. So you can use statements such as:
Then encouraging them more with statements, such as “Go on”, “Tell me more”, or “Yes.” This may sound obvious, but it is so easy to forget to make these sorts of comments when we are thinking about our issues and what we have to say next.
One way of clarifying is to repeat keywords used by the client. The key word selected will influence the direction of the interview.
Another method is to restate certain parts of what the client has said through the use of short statements. These restatements can again influence the direction of the interview like minimal encouragers.
Another way to show that you are listening is by using minimal encouragers. Minimal encouragers help to put the speaker at ease, and encourage them to continue talking with minimal interruption or influence. You probably use minimal encouragers subconsciously in your conversations already. Some examples include “mmm hmmmm”, “uh-huh”, “I see”, “tell me more”, or nodding your head. Even a silence accompanied by appropriate body language can serve as a minimal encourager.
Counselling skills can sound quite simple. I am sure many of you reading this will think, I do that all the time. The next few times you have a conversation with someone, try to use these different skills and techniques. Consider if you DO actually use them.
Summarising is another technique used in active listening. It shows that you have listened to the person and understood what they have said. An example might be:
“So you love your job, but you don’t like your new boss, so you are not sure whether to find another job.” This just briefly summarises the main points of what the person has said.
Although similar to paraphrasing and encouraging, summarising is used to sum up a longer period of the interview. It is used to check that the counsellor has understood the gist of a whole section of an interview, or even to review an entire session or several sessions. It is best done with a check at the end to see if what the client has portrayed through thoughts and feelings has been correctly understood. For example, you might ask “Does that sound about right?”, “Have I understood you?”, or “Does that sound like a fair summary?”
You are listening to a person talking. They are telling you about how difficult things have been for them. They don’t want you to sit/stand there and be totally neutral, so it is important to show sympathy and understanding without cutting short the conversation. Statements such as “You sound like you’ve had a terrible time” or “That must have been so difficult for you” show that you are being understanding of how difficult it has been for them.
Another technique that can be used is reflecting. There are two types of reflection used by counsellors:
Reflection of feeling
Reflection of meaning
Reflection of feeling is considered part of the listening sequence. It involves repeating a word or phrase back to the person to encourage them to talk. For example, if the person says “I’ve been really stressed lately”. You can repeat back to them – “So you’ve been stressed lately?” This is different to paraphrasing which focuses on reflecting back content. Instead, the emphasis is clearly on reflecting back feeling.
Or, you can simply say something like “Stressed?” as a question, which can keep the conversation flowing and help to maintain the topic of the conversation.
The idea behind reflection of feeling is that there are underlying emotions and feelings beneath the thoughts, behaviours and words expressed by an individual. Reflection of feeling helps to clarify these feelings to the client by making them more explicit.
Reflection of meaning is a higher end skill than reflection of feeling. It is part of what might be considered influencing skills rather than listening skills and is discussed later.
We have just summarised active listening, but an important part of counselling skills and techniques is the use and identification of body language.
This course is ideal for people who have industry experience and want to amalgamate that experience into a qualification. It is also suited to people who have access to a workplace but limited qualifications and who want to earn a qualification whilst working. Students can use this course of study to enhance their current skills and knowledge through personal development or use it to reinforce areas they are familiar with. The focus here is on counselling and related skills.