10 Examples of Counselling Skills (And How to Improve Them)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 31 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Counselling skills are the abilities that therapists and other mental health professionals use to complete their job duties. These skills range from technical to soft skills and the skill set a counsellor has may depend on their speciality. Learning about the essential skills for this profession can help you develop the right skill set to succeed in this role. In this article, we explain what counselling skills are, provide 10 common examples and explain how you can improve these skills.

What are counselling skills?

Counselling skills refer to the soft skills and technical abilities a mental health professional has to help clients improve their quality of life. For example, many counsellors have an advanced set of interpersonal skills to help them relate to their clients. Learning about the essential skills for this role can help prepare you for success in this career by allowing you to offer solutions to mental health issues clients are trying to overcome.

Related: 11 Top Jobs for a Psychologist (With Job Details and Salary)

10 essential counselling skills

Learning about the essential skills of counsellors can help you understand what counselling may entail. Here's a list of 10 common skills for this role:

1. Active listening

Active listening is a type of communication skill that can help you process what others are telling you. Active listening allows counsellors to retain important information that clients share and prompts them to ask questions about the conversation. To improve your active listening skills, practise patience when speaking to others. Think about what they're saying rather than what you want to say. Adapting your body language, such as nodding or keeping eye contact, can also help you actively listen.

2. Questioning

The two types of questioning styles that a counsellor may utilise are open and closed questioning. Being skilled in questioning techniques can help a counsellor better interpret what a client is saying and can help a client think more deeply about their personal situation as well. Counsellors may also use this skill to help prompt their client's thought process. To improve your questioning skills, consider how you can create relevant and thought-provoking questions.

3. Record-keeping

Counsellors use record-keeping skills to remember important details about their clients. This can help them keep accurate schedules and track appointments. Counsellors can also use this skill to take effective notes during and after sessions. This can help you keep accurate and neat records, which can allow you to locate and access information easily when you need it.

4. Analysis

Counsellors use analysis skills to help interpret what their clients tell them. This can help counsellors understand more about their clients without the client having to elaborate too much. Analysis skills can help with making diagnoses and offering advice to clients. To improve this skill, try to be mindful of smaller details and consider how they might relate to other facts you know about a person or situation.

Related: 16 Jobs for Analytical Thinkers (With Salaries and Duties)

5. Non-verbal communication

It's also important for counsellors to be able to interpret a client's non-verbal communication, such as body language. This can help them understand the emotional state of a client. For example, if a client fidgets often during a session, they may be experiencing anxiety. To practise this skill, try to be observant of how others hold themselves and use their body to communicate. It may also be helpful to research what different gestures and body language poses may mean to help you gain a better understanding of this type of communication.

6. Self-awareness

Counsellors benefit from being aware of how their body language, gestures and tone of voice can affect their client and their willingness to talk about a situation. Having good self-awareness can keep a counsellor from accidentally exhibiting signs of boredom, frustration or judgment. This can create a more comfortable environment for your clients. You can develop your self-awareness skills by taking time for self-reflection to learn more about yourself and recognise your behaviours and habits.

7. Empathy

Empathy describes the ability to consider other individuals' perspectives and experiences, especially when the situation they're in isn't similar to yours. Being able to express empathy for others is an important skill for counsellors, as it helps these professionals relate to their clients. To develop empathy, consider ways in which you can express compassion for others. It's also helpful to expose yourself to more diverse individuals and ideas, as this can help you expand your knowledge and point of view.

8. Emotional compartmentalisation

Another skill that can be specific to counsellors is the ability to emotionally compartmentalise themselves from their clients and maintain professional boundaries to maintain healthy relationships with clients. This can also help ensure counsellors don't feel affected by their clients' issues, as this can impact a counsellor's mood and mental health. Practising a healthy work-life balance and healthy habits, such as adequate sleep and a healthy diet, can help you manage your mental health.

9. Discretion

Discretion is the ability to keep client information confidential. This involves counsellors keeping anything clients say in a session to themselves. This helps foster a sense of trust between counsellors and clients, which can lead to better progress for the client. To develop this skill, ensure that you understand the importance and regulations around patient-counsellor confidentiality and avoid speaking to others about your clients.

10. Information recall

Being able to remember information that was shared in previous sessions can help counsellors guide their questioning with each client. Remembering important details about a client can also help strengthen the relationship between a client and counsellor. To help develop this skill, you can also further develop your active listening, as this can help you retain information better. You can also note down important details to reference in future sessions.

How to improve your skills

Here are some steps you can follow to maximise your positive impact as a counsellor:

1. Enlist a friend for mock counselling sessions

You can potentially improve your skills by asking a trusted friend to be your mock client. Hold a mock counselling session and record yourself. Afterwards, ask your friend how they perceived you, what they liked and disliked about your questions or overall body language and review the footage to conduct your own assessment of your skills and areas in which you can work towards improvement.

2. Practise body language analysis

You can practise body language analysis in your daily life. This type of exercise can help with your interpretation of clients and their attitudes about a given topic. For example, observe the cashier in the checkout line or a person you pass on the street based on their posture, facial expressions and tone of voice. You can also monitor your own body language to see what physical reactions you have when experiencing certain emotions.

Read more: Types of Nonverbal Communication (With Definition and Tips)

3. Seek out a mentor within the profession

You can find a mentor who has counselling experience and consult with them about the methods they find most effective during counselling sessions, such as how they handled a difficult case and what skills they utilise the most. Utilise networking opportunities, such as attending conferences, to build relationships with more senior professionals. You can also foster closer relationships with more experienced coworkers if you work with other counsellors.

Counselling skills in the workplace

Here are a few ways you can incorporate your skills into your duties:

Be mindful of your body language

Try to be mindful of your body language, especially during a counselling session. Depending on the context, a client might worry about being judged when they disclose particular information. Take this into consideration and ensure to maintain a warm expression and demeanour to reassure your client that you're not judging them.

Review client notes before and after sessions

Ensure to look over notes or recordings from previous sessions with a particular client to prepare for upcoming counselling sessions. This can help with information recall, and it can help you better direct your questioning during your next session with them. If your client is comfortable with it, consider taking notes during sessions and completing them after your client leaves so you can have more thorough notes.

Refrain from discussing client information with coworkers

Refrain from discussing a client's personal matters with colleagues to uphold client confidentiality. If you want to consult with your colleague about a particular case, consider keeping the information you provide more general and don't disclose the client's name. This practice helps you keep your integrity as a health care provider.

Related: Top 10 Social Worker Skills (Plus Tips for Developing Them)

Don't pressure clients for personal information

Avoid asking clients too many questions to build trust and increase client comfort. Use the information clients provide to build a conversation around. Over time, clients may get more comfortable with you and give more personal details. This can help strengthen your relationship with your clients, which can help progress their recovery process.

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