Effective Counseling Techniques
Effective Counseling Techniques are discreet skills which, when practiced effictively by a knowledgeable person, counselor or not, make possible a trusting environment where a client (or friend) can share what has been held "secretly" or privately.
First of the effective counseling techniques is the creation of an encouraging and empathic belief in the counselor's head for the initial phone call or return call. I think it is important to offer words of encouragement, and choices. A warm, friendly tone of voice is very important. I like to offer initial sessions at no charge and indicate we will explore whether I am the best fit for their issues, allying for the time being the financial burden a client may or may not be worried about.
When the client arrives, I great them cordially, and ask, "What has changed since your phone call?"
I want to set the expectation that change is happening already.
Then comes the discreet listening and speaking skills that overall indicate to the client that his or her issues are worth "the gift of attention", which is a phrase one of my early mentors, Tony Kubicki, taught me, in the early 1990's.
Those skills are taught in most basic counseling skills classes, and sometimes are given a little bit different name, but run along these lines;
Active or Reflective Listening
Active listening happens when you "listen for meaning". The listener says very little but conveys empathy, acceptance and genuiness. Tony Kubicki would add to this that I repeat the clients words in my own head, to keep from creating my retort. At some point in the process, I repeat back to the client what I have been hearing, and ask if I heard them correctly. If the answer is yes, we go on, if the answer is no, I ask them to repeat what they said until they hear my reflection/repeat and answer 'yes' to my reflection question. The experience of having an individual pay close attention can be very calming for someone struggling with some strong feelings.
Developing encouraging body language can take some practice. Remember that communication is 55% body language, 38% tone and 7% words. One of the interesting phenomena in the body language arena is that I perceive nonverbal cues and respond in 1/18th second according to Mihalyi Csikszemihalyi, author of "FLOW". (That means that I can process 126 bits of data every second). That is about twice as fast as I can blink my eyes. Paul Ekman, who has been studying facial expressions, reports we can process nonverbal cues from the face in 1/25th second, subconsciously, and I will respond emotionally (perhaps with adrenalin and cortisol) faster than I can create words in the prefrontal cortex. And I am always amazed at how much modeling goes on in as session, how much client and counselor adopt very similar postures.
Asking questions - open and closed - is an important tool in the counseling kit. Open ended questions, which encourage an ongoing story line, are preferrable. Closed questions can be answered with one word, and stop the communication.
Paraphrasing is when you, the listener, restate succinctly and tentatively what the speaker said - conveying empathy, acceptance and genuineness. This is very similar to what I called reflective listening above.
A summary, in counseling, is when you focus on the main points of a presentation or session in order to highlight them. Both you and the client may have forgotten something and this gives you both a quick review.
Note taking is the practice of writing down pieces of information, often in a shorthand and messy manner. I do not usually do this during a session, but get to it right after if at all possible, because note taking helps me remember the feelings around issues and the story line too, which will come up again. I think the client feels affirmed when the details come back to me in the next session, or I begin the second session with the question, "What has changed in regards to ...(their issue)?" Also very important for progress reports for third party referring agencies.
Homework in counseling is fun and informative work done outside of the session. It extends the length of the session and increases progress. If the homework is not done, we have something to explore at the beginning of the next session.
I like to close counseling sessions with some excitement, reminding the individual in my office that they have been very courageous in seeking me out, and that the dilemma they face can be worked with and on by utilizing their particular talents and skills.
I want my clients walking out the door encouraged that they can manage feelings, thinking, and behaviour very effectively.
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.
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