Basic Counseling Skills

Basic counseling skills are actually very much the same thing you do when you are talking to a dear friend, or perhaps a guy or a gal you are attracted to.

Seems pretty simple, so why all the course work in graduate school to teach basic counseling skills?

You already know how to listen, right, so what is the big deal? Besides, when you are trying to use all those newly learned basic counseling skills in a conversation: attend, and encourage, and paraphrase, you get confused and you lose the client's train of thought, so why confuse the issue?

Learning basic counseling skills is necessary because when you can listen well, and use basic counseling skills appropriately, your client will experience a sense of relief, that simply comes with having someone pay close attention to them for awhile, someone who listens rather than offers advice, or tells them to get over it, who listens respectfully.

As a counselor, you will see wonderful gratitude in your client's eyes simply because you took the time to listen.

So What are Basic Counseling Skills

The first basic counseling skill is to do your HeartMath and set your internal intention. Get on the same heartbeat. More on HeartMath below.

Basic Counseling Skill-Listening

First Step-set my intention to listen very closely, and keep that intention in place. Day dreaming needs to be set aside for later.

Most counseling training describes the discrete skills of listening with similar words, but typically, a listener needs to attend to the speaker, which means position him or herself to indicate to the speaker that the speaker is the center of the listeners attention. Those behaviors can include eye contact, body position, even turning the head to the side, giving the client your ear, so to speak, encouraging comments from the listener, mirroring body positions. (You will be amazed at how much mirroring behavior happens in a session). Since most communication occurs nonverbally, the listeners nonverbal behaviors are critical in the establishment of trust and safety for the speaker, who may be revealing personal secrets never before revealed.

So the listener needs to set in his or her mind an intention to create and sustain attending.

And there will be times when your attention drifts. Reset your intention and come back to the session. Your speaker, who is watching you intently, will see your attention shift. You many need to say something about being struck by your speakers comment, and following it out of the session, and ask them to repeat it.

The next important part of listening is to capture the verbal and nonverbal communication of the speaker.

You will be listening for the story line or chronology typically, and I like to listen for patterns of speech, for example, the use of words like should, ought, and must, which can point to a pattern of thinking. Listening will involve hearing what was not said also.

Listening will include observing the process or nonverbal communications. For example, a client may become particularly animated when mentioning one situation, or excited at another, and I want to be able to check with them about that nonverbal communication.

Empathy Skills in Counseling

Empathy to me means the ability to name the emotions I am observing and to ask the speaker if I am accurate in my perceptions.

When I do this, I often see speakers calm down, as they experience being heard respectfully. Oftentimes, my speakers just need to be heard respectfully. In other words, they do not need me to solve the problem, but to listen to and recognize their feelings.

The Discrete Skills associated with empathy include listening, and reflecting patient feelings and implicit messages, in an "I" statement usually.

A reflection might go something like this, "O.K., here is what it sounds like so far, you are angry about your _____, did I hear you accurately?

If the speaker replies that I did not hear them accurately, I ask them to repeat, and then I listen and reflect again, and again if need be, until the speaker says that my reflection is accurate.

Remember that all I am doing here is listening, like a tape recorder, no interpretation, judgement, or problem solving yet.

I am hearing in a supportive and accepting way only.

Kevin J. Drab, in his PDF called The Top Ten Basic Counseling Skills, reports that this process of paraphrasing includes four steps.

1.Listen and recall. The entire client message to ensure you recalled it in its entirety. Repeat the speakers words in your own head, and this does take attention and intention, and is so important.

2.Get clear on the content of the message. Get the details down.

3.Rephrase or repeat back to the client an essential summary of details and feelings.

4.Ask if you have heard the message accurately.

Genuiness Skills in Counseling

The listener is congruent in their verbal and nonverbal behaviour, which indicates your comfort with the other human being in your presence.

I like to think that this 'other soul' deserves to be heard respectfully, no matter what the behavior. Reminding myself of that commitment helps my sustain genuine interest in my client.

If my nonverbal communication indicates incongruence, that is, my words are reassuring, but nonverbals indicate tension, the speaker is less likely to feel safe.

Unconditional Positive Regard

Skills in counseling include an internal acknowledgement that the speaker is acceptable, and an acceptance is conveyed through nonjudgemental verbal and nonverbal behaviors.

Concreteness Skills in Counseling

Concreteness skill in counseling involves helping the client to identify and work on a specific problem from the various problems presented. It might also involve keeping the client on track with that problem in this session, clarifying facts, terms, feelings, goals, and uses a hear and now focus to emphasize issues in today's session.


Your client has come to you because they are troubled by feelings or thoughts or behaviors that are occurring and they are unsure that they can manage them.

I like to offer encouragement about the tremendous capacity that they have to change. I let them know that I am confident that we will be able to make changes, although we cannot predict what directions those changes will take.

It is at this point that I might introduce some tools that I am fairly certain that they have not heard of, like a brain fitness program called Mind Sparke Brain Fitness Pro or HeartMath heart rate variability biofeedback, and ask them simply to try them, and when they are successful, I can offer encouragement that there are key components of this stressful experience that can be managed fast and frequently.

Clients are usually surprised that they can be successful out of the chute with computerized tools, and I like to see them walk out the door with a renewed sense of efficacy, delighted in their own discoveries and resources.

We have not done anything with the external problem but have really impacted the internal feeling and thinking world for our client.

Maybe here I begin to teach a bit about what Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi calls FLOW (the title of his 1993 book) and how fast the central nervous system works, and perhaps introduce a bit of the cognitive behavioral model, again because I want my clients to begin to focus on the solution, rather than the problem.

As the relationship between me and any of the people I am working with in my domestic violence program develops, we continue to weave basic counseling skills like these throughout our work, and just below are links to some of the tools I mentioned above.

The first is HeartMath, which is a heart rate variability biofeedback tool, but is actually so much, much more.

HeartMath is based on the research about the heart's own nervous system, which can learn and make decisions independently of any other brain that I have.

The heart's intelligence is affiliative and cooperative and I can keep myself operating from heart intelligence with a bit of attention most of the time, which is a great basic counseling skill to have.

The heart is a sensory organ, and it sends a great deal of information to my brain about the homeostasis of the rest of my body, and with practice I can learn to make quick adjustments internally to my own feelings and thinking so that I am not removed from the session by them, and HeartMath opens up the higher perceptual centers in my brain for optimal problem solving.

Is HeartMath difficult to learn? No, I have had only one or two clients in the ten years I have been teaching it take more than ten one-half hour sessions (five hours) to generate high coherence.

The bottom line that HeartMath is a profound tool for counselor and customer alike.

emWave2 by HeartMath LLC

Would You Share Something That You Are Grateful For?

When I was beginning my personal growth journey, a wise person told me that when I was feeling resentful or afraid or sad, that I should remember the phrase "gratitude is the attitude" when I was ready to feel better. That phrase has helped me feel better tens of thousands of times.

Would you share what you are most grateful for? Your story could be just what another person is searching for to renew themselves? Thanks.

Have a question and want to talk with a therapist? Call 815-316-2621 for Julie Logan, LCSW, RN. 7121 Windsor Lake Parkway, Loves Park, Illinois 61111

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