Basic Counseling Skills for Any Situation

Some Basic Counseling Skills.

Listening and communication skills make up a major part of good counseling. The next section of this article contains a brief overview of basic counseling techniques counselors can utilize.

Listening skills pay off handsomely in relationships of all kinds too.

Tony Kubicki, a mentor of mine, who taught me his domestic violence program in the early 1990's, told me that I should repeat my client's words to myself before I reflect or paraphrase to keep myself from preparing my retort, or interruption.

On occasion, in reflecting, I will repeat a client's statement back to them verbatim, and ask them if I heard them accurately, and the client's response has been no.

In that circumstance, since the client is the one deciding accuracy, I ask if I can try again, or ask them to repeat for me what they said, and I will paraphrase or summarize again, and we will repeat this until the client is satisfied that they have been heard accurately.

I do that to this day. It is amazing to watch a highly agitated individual calm down if someone listens to them. Thankyou Tony (Batman) Kubicki.

I like to set the tone of the session with a question, "What changes have you seen since we last met?" If my client hesitates, that may be a cue to ask about what he/she might want to talk about today.

Other Important Counseling Skills

Open-Ended Questions

Open-ended questions keep the conversation moving and probe deeper into topics and feelings raised by your client.

A closed question can be answered yes or no, or involve a simple statement of fact, while open-ended questions, require other information to be provided. Closed questions do not encourage your client to share with the you and may limit his/her ability to contribute to the discussion.

Examples of closed questions, if the presenting issue is stuttering:

"At what age did you first stutter ?"

"Do you stutter on your name?"

"What was the name of your antagonist in grammar school?"

Examples of open-ended questions:

"What was going on in your life when you first started to stutter?"

"What situations or words give you more difficulty with stuttering?"

"How did you react to teasing in grammar school?"

Benefits of open-ended questions include:

Helping your client explore issues in a more meaningful way

Allowing for more people-centered work

Involving your client more actively in treatment

Opening up difficult or challenging issue that needs to be addressed

Active Listening - Basic Techniques

Active listening techniques include engaging and responding to your client based on something expressed, either in words, or in non-verbal actions or behavior

Attending Behavior

One of the most basic aspects of good listening and communication between counselor and client is attending.

Attending refers to how the counselor communicates to his/her client that she/he is listening to her/him and interested in what she/he is saying.

Attending skills involve eye contact, posture, and verbal and non-verbal cues. Eye contact may vary from person to person, so you cannot assume that just because a person does not look you in the eye, it means that she or he is hiding something.

Some questions about attending. What posture should a counselor take? Whatever posture is comfortable for you. Be you.

Are there verbal and non-verbal cues counselor's can use? Try, OK, tell me more, or hmmm. (

Other non-verbal cues include smiling, looking puzzled, nodding, or leaning forward in interest. Be you.

Still More Counseling Skills

Showing Interest

Expressing genuine interest in the circumstances of the client will help him/her better understand his/her own experiences and create an opportunity to share more with you.

Client: "When I’m about to speak I get excited and stutter. It really upsets me."

Counselor: "Help me understand what it is like for you when you go through this experience. Can you give me a picture of what a typical stutter would be for you how you feel when you starting thinking about speaking, what happens once you’re aware of these thoughts or how do you feel upset?"

Empathetic Responses

The empathetic response is a technique that demonstrates to the client that the counselor had carefully attended to what he or she was saying and truly listened to the message.

Aspects of the message that can be addressed include experiences (i.e., what happened to your client), behaviors (i.e., what the client did), and feelings (i.e., how your client reacted, either to the experiences or the behaviors).

Often, empathetic responses can take the form of statements such as You felt (feeling) because of (experiences or behaviors) .

It will be important to use your own words to summarize the clients feelings, behaviors, and experiences, and not to be dismissive in your summary. As with other counseling skills, this will come with practice.


Paraphrasing involves repeating core aspects of the client’s message back to him or her using your own words.

Simply repeating the same words the client said should be used sparingly, since this is not actually an active listening technique.

Repeating does not give a client a sense of being listened to. Paraphrasing, i.e., saying what your client has said using different words, can be much more effective because it helps the client see his or her experiences from a different perspective and may help them recognize feelings or behaviors they did not previously see.


Client: "When I’m about to speak I get excited and stutter. It really upsets me."

SLP: "It’s very distressing."

Not recommended:

Client: "When I’m about to speak I get excited and stutter. It really upsets me."

SLP: "This just really upsets you."


Counseling is an interaction that focuses on the issues and realities for your client. (Not the counselors). It is important for the counselor to ask the client about how the issue plays a role in his or her life to determine the extent to which it affects goals, ambitions and quality of life.

Therefore, counselors must also be willing and able to focus on the clients’ feelings about their issue. By actively using counseling techniques such as those outlined above, counselors will be better equipped to deal with life issues of your client. This, in turn, will greatly enhance the efficacy of counseling.

Some Helpful Counseling Resources;

Chopra, D. (1989). Quantum Healing. Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine. New York: Bantam Books.

Corey, M.S., & Corey, G. (1998). Becoming a helper (3rd Ed.) Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.

Egan, G. (1998). The Skilled Helper (6th Ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishers.  

Faber, A., & Mazlish, E. (1980). How to Talk So Kids will Listen & Listen So Kids will Talk. New York: Avon Books.

James, M. Born to Win: Transactional Analysis with Gestalt Experiments, New York Addison-Wesley Publishers. 1973.

Luterman, D. (1996). Counseling the Communicatively Disordered and their Families. (3rd Ed.). Austin: Pro-Ed.

Mind Sparke Brain Fitness Pro - Software that makes you smarter

Counseling Skills in a Disaster

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.

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