Counselling and interpersonal skills

Acceptance, sometimes called Unconditional Positive Regard or UPR, is an attitude of non-judgemental warmth. It means having acceptance of the other person, exactly as they are, as a separate person entitled to their own feelings and experiences. It means having a willingness to let the person be in touch with whatever feeling is going on for them in the moment – fear, pride, anger, hostility, confusion. … [more]

Active listening
Active listening means using a set of skills that encourage the person you are listening to to talk, to help them feel heard and understood. It is called ‘active’ because you intentionally do things to help them feel able to talk, and because you engage with all your attention on what the speaker is saying, how they are acting, and how they are feeling. … [more]

Boundaries are the limits you set on what you will allow. They are invisible lines that separate the participants in a relationship and allow them to take responsibility for their lives and to meet their obligations. Your boundaries are how you keep yourself physically and emotionally safe. Keeping good boundaries often means being able to say ‘no’ and sometimes this can feel hard if you feel there is a risk of losing someone’s approval or friendship. But if you fail to maintain your own boundaries in a relationship, you may be modelling unhealthy behaviour to those you are in relationship with. … [more]

Carl Rogers on the core conditions
The first element could be called genuineness, realness, or congruence. The more the therapist is himself or herself in the relationship, putting up no professional front or personal facade, the greater is the likelihood that the client will change and grow in a constructive manner. This means that the therapist is openly being the feelings and attitudes that are flowing within at the moment. The term ‘transparent’ catches the flavor of this condition: the therapist makes himself or herself transparent to the client. … [more]

Challenging is about bringing into focus discrepancies in the other person’s feelings, thinking or behaviour that they are tending to overlook or ignore. Challenging discrepancies is best done sensitively and respectfully. But if we share the client’s blind spots and distortions, or if we let our own anxieties become a block to effectively challenging them, we may end up colluding to avoid issues. … [more]

‘You appear to be untrustworthy if your actions do not match your words.’ – Richard Nelson-Smith. Congruence is about being genuine – being yourself in your relationships with other people, without any pretence or facade. When we are congruent, how we act and what we say is consistent with how we are feeling and what we are thinking. This is not always easy to do. … [more]

Empathy means having a felt sense of what is going on for the other person. It is the ability to be able to put yourself in their shoes and have an awareness of what they are feeling, how they think, how they see the world. It involves sensing the other person’s world as if it were your own, without losing that ‘as if’ quality. … [more]

Feedback helps us to become more aware of what we do and how we do it. If you are asked for feedback on another’s interpersonal skills or behaviour, it helps to: focus on the behaviour, not the person; focus on things they can do something about; give your observations not your judgements; be specific; own what you are saying; pace it; be respectful; Sandwich issues for improvement between more positive comments; make sure they hear the positive, as well as the challenging; be honest and respectful; accept that they are entitled to reject your feedback. … [more]

How does counselling differ from other types of helping?
Some characteristics of counselling that differentiate it from other types of helping: A contracted activity . Counselling involves an explicit agreement between the counsellor and the client. This means that the client must consent to counselling and will be aware that the relationship is a counselling one. A psychological therapy . Whereas a helper can focus on practical solutions and support, such as helping a friend move house, counselling is always concerned with addressing psychological or emotional needs and problems. … [more]

Immediacy involves being able to feed back to another person how you are experiencing them, your perceptions and feelings, in the moment. It is about using the immediate situation to invite the other person to look at what is going on between you in the relationship. Since it involves being open about our immediate reactions and feelings, it is very closely connected to the core condition of congruence. Being immediate, being able to respond in the moment, is an essential part of the skills needed by therapists, and is valuable in helping to identify feelings, both in ourselves and in others. It focuses on using the here and now and on the therapeutic relationship to explore what the client may be communicating about his or her world. … [more]

Matching and Mirroring
One way of helping achieve rapport, so that the other person can feel more comfortable and safe in our presence, is matching: adopting aspects of their behaviour, such as particular body language, gestures, tone of voice or forms of speech. In everyday life, people tend to do this naturally. When with others, you might suddenly notice that you and the person you’re with have adopted the same posture. Or at a social occasion you might notice that people who are getting on well together lift their glasses to drink at the same time. These are natural signs of being in tune, in rapport with each other. Singing and dancing are powerful ways to build rapport because anything that involves moving or breathing in unison creates rapport. … [more]

Minimal Encouragers
Minimal encouragers are small signals that let the speaker know you are listening and understanding – words like ‘uh-huh’, ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘mmm’, and little actions like nodding that show you are engaged in listening. They encourage the speaker to talk, with minimum interruption or influence by the listener. … [more]

Non-verbal Messages
In a face-to-face counselling or helping role, a big part of creating and mantaining rapport with the other personwill be your body language. This article looks at what is likely to be helful in that context. … [more]

On being interested in the client
When we are working with clients, we can find ourselves being caught up in thinking how we should deal with them, or what we ought to say next. But this can take our focus away from what’s going on for the client in that moment. Congruence and acceptance are ways of being with the client. Empathic understanding, on the other hand needs to be developed with each new client – there is no short cut to knowing how they feel, of knowing what it’s like to be in their shoes, of seeing the world through their eyes. If in doubt, keep your attention on what the client has just said, not what to say next. … [more]

Perceiving Accurately
When clients talk to you, they use language in their own way. But words can mean different things to different people. You are likely to interpret what you hear in terms of how you use language, which will never be exactly how they do, and may sometimes be very different. So taking what people say literally, without checking, or assuming that you must know what they mean and what is important to them, can lead you to misperceive what’s going on. … [more]

Reflecting Feelings
When you feed back your perceptions of the emotions that the other person may be experiencing, this is called reflecting feelings. Reflecting feelings, in the person centred model, is not a technique. It is not simply repeating back to the person what they are saying. It means sensing feelings of which the person may be scarcely aware. It means helping the person name feelings and experiences that they have not yet put into words. It means letting them know that you are truly entering into their world. … [more]

Repeating words and phrases
Repeating back to the speaker words or small phrases helps you nudge the conversation in various directions, without posing too many restrictions on them. Mentioning a particular word or phrase puts the focus on it but the speaker is free to interpret it in terms of their concerns, their interests, their problems. As you learn to do this more and more naturally, you may be surprised to notice how long you can keep the conversation flowing using only this technique and other minimal encouragers like ‘uh-huh’, ‘yes’ and nodding. … [more]

Creating a sense of emotional safety for the person being helped involves: building trust: through the use of rapport skills, manifesting the core conditions: a sense of congruent acceptance from a helper who hears and understands them, a commitment to confidentiality, setting clear boundaries so the person knows where they stand. For instance there are limits to confidentiality which might come from … [more]

Self-disclosure is sharing information about yourself with others that they would not normally know or discover. What is unknown will be different for different people depending on their relationship to you and the context in which you meet. Therapist intentional self-disclosure, in most ways of working tends to be used sparingly, and only when it is more beneficial to disclose than not to. In this context, therapist self-disclosure is mostly restricted to how they are experiencing the relationship (their feelings and perceptions in the here-and-now). … [more]

Summarising and Paraphrasing
Summarising involves taking what someone has said over a prolonged period and putting it in a nutshell – a sentence or a few sentences that condense what might have taken a few minutes or longer to say. Paraphrasing involves repeating what’s said by putting it in your own words. … [more]

The Broken Record
The Broken Record is a technique to help you be verbally assertive by: maintaining your boundaries; being calm and respectful, not aggressive; ignoring guilt-inducing statements; not being defensive about what you want, but simply stating it, and sticking to that position. It involves repeating what you want, calmly and respectfully, without going on the defensive and without giving justifications. It involves being persistent and sticking to the point, politely repeating what you want. … [more]

The Core Conditions for Therapeutic Change
Carl Rogers (1902-1987) developed an approach to counselling called the Person Centred Approach. He believed that we all have a natural tendency towards growth and wholeness, but that, often, difficult life experiences lead us to have a negative concept of ourselves, in one way or another. Rogers believed that when people have the opportunity to be in a relationship where they experience themselves as understood and accepted for who they are, by someone who interacts with them genuinely and honestly, they will naturally begin to grow and develop in therapeutic ways. … [more]

The Metamodel – a safety net for trainees
In essence, the Metamodel is a simple way of deciding what to say next with the client. It was developed in the 1970s by Richard Bandler and John Grinder, the founders of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming). Bandler and Grinder studied the techniques of famous therapists, such as Fritz Perls and Virginia Satir, and came up with a simple formulaic way to decide what to explore next, simply based on linguistics – aspects of language meaning and grammar. Novices sometimes find it useful to fall back on (or at least to know that they can fall back on it, if they get stuck). … [more]

Unhelpful questions
Some types of question can be problematic in counselling and should be used sparingly. Closed questions can be unhelpful because they invite a small range of short responses. They can tend to discourage the person from saying more, and can narrow the person’s choice of how to respond naturally. Multiple questions – asking more than one question at a time – is usually confusing and is best avoided. The listener may be unsure which question to answer first, and may not be able to fully concentrate on any one of your questions because they are trying to keep in mind their answers to the others. … [more]

Using Questions
Asking questions is one way of finding out more from the person we are listening to. In active listening, it helps to ask open questions, ones that invite a wide range of responses, rather than closed ones (ones that invite a limited number of responses, like ‘yes’ or ‘no’). Open questions encourage the person to go on speaking, and give them freer choice of how to respond and what to focus on, and can be valuable to help the client get in touch with their feelings. … [more]

Using silence
If people are engaged with their feelings, or coming to an awareness of them, sometimes it takes them time to process what’s going on or to find ways of putting it into words. Using silence to give them space lets them stay with that process and helps them work to a better understanding of what’s going on for them. When it’s useful to stay silent: if the person stops speaking but doesn’t look at you, that may be a sign that they are thinking through something. If they look away from you but appear to be caught up in their own thoughts, there’s a strong possibility that they are thinking through something that they will then put into words. Your respectful silence at that point will help them work through that process. … [more]

What a therapist isn’t
When training as a therapist, it helps to remember that: you are not a sage – it is unwise to try to be wise; you are not an expert on the client – there’s only one expert on the client in the room, and it’s not you; you are not an advisor – giving advice is not normally a counselling skill; you are not a clairvoyant – you cannot know how things will turn out in the future so don’t say ‘I’m sure it will be okay’. … [more]

Your Support Network
People tend to find that they cope better with situations and enjoy life more if they have the support of family and friends. Your informal support networks are the personal ties you have with others. Friends, relatives and other people you turn to for comfort, advice or help are your ‘support network’. A healthy life-position in relation to others involves both giving and receiving support. As someone who supports others, it is important to know when you need support and to be able to ask for it, as well as to give it. … [more]