Basic Skills of a Counselor

Basic Skills of a Counselor Video

Hey, guys! Welcome to this Mometrix video over the basic skills of a counselor.

Research is continually proving that positive outcomes are less predicated on a certain type of therapy, as they are on the counselor’s ability to be enthusiastic, confident, and present a belief in the patient’s ability to change.

We can’t change people. However, we can be helpful in encouraging our clients to move towards change. It would appear that clients are more likely to achieve their goals when there is a healthy and trusting relationship that exists between the client and their therapist. So, naturally, the way in which the counselor engages the client can be a very effective tool in the helping relationship.

Today we will talk about the 9 most important basic counseling skills.

1. Listening

Think about the people who you feel most heard, and understood by. Generally, the reason we feel as though they are listening has a lot to do with their body language, or posture towards us. In counseling, this is called attending. Attending just means to position yourself to the patient in a way that lets the patient know that you are aware of them, that they have your full undivided attention, and that you care about what they have to say; and, in general, them as a person.

Here are some important things to be aware of to make sure that you are attending:

  • Make eye contact.
  • Remove anything from the room that may distract you from focusing on your patient.
  • Nod your head at appropriate times to confirm that you are hearing what they are saying, or that you identify with what they are saying.
  • Try not to move around a ton. Though you may not mean to, moving around can suggest that you are antsy and ready for them to stop talking; you never want them to feel like you don’t want them to be there, or that you have better things to do.
  • Make encouraging verbalizations.
  • Try even to mirror their posture, and language; this can make your client feel more comfortable, and free.
  • Lean forward. This shows your client that you are engaged.

There are many other aspects of body language that may depend on that specific patient.

Researchers suggest that eighty percent of communication actually takes place non-verbally. So, attending is an important way that you communicate to your patient that you care about them. But, just like with anything, we can go through the motions, do all the right things, but our minds and hearts can be far off. We need to be sure that we are retaining and understanding the verbal and nonverbal information being conveyed by that patient. This is called observing, or actually listening.

Content, and process are the two main sources of information to draw from to make sure that we are understanding what our patient is communicating. Content refers to what is actually said. Be careful to listen to, not only what a person says, but also the words, expressions and patterns the person is using, which can give you deeper insight. It may also be important to recognize what is not said.

Counselors should also develop an ability to remember what was said, and to clarify with the patient what was said.

“Process” refers to all nonverbal communication, including how the content is being presented. You don’t just want to be conscious about your nonverbal communication, but an important part of listening is being aware of the patients as well. This can be recurring themes, body language, interactions, etc.

2. Empathy

Empathy does not mean that you have to identify with the patient or share similar experiences. You may not actually know how they feel, but it’s important to develop the ability to discern another’s experience and then to communicate that perception back to the individual to clarify what they have said.

The main skills involved in communicating empathy are:

  • Nonverbal and verbal attending
  • Paraphrasing what the patient has communicated
  • Reflecting on how the patient feels, and also on implied messages.

Now, we already talked about attending but, just to review, this involves our conduct which communicates to the patient that we are paying full attention to what they are saying in a caring and helpful way.

Paraphrasing: You want to focus on the keywords and main ideas that the client has communicated and communicate them back to your patient in a rephrased, and shortened form. This not only communicates to your client that you heard what they are saying, but also that you are trying to really understand them more deeply.

Here are four tools to help you paraphrase:

1. Listen and recall everything that the client expressed to make sure that you recalled everything, and did not miss any significant details.
2. Identify the content aspect of the information the client has shared by deciding what event, situation, idea, or person the client is talking about. Remember content refers to what is actually being said through words, expressions, and patterns; and oftentimes even through what they omit.
3. Rephrase the entirety of what they have communicated yet as briefly as possible. Use the keywords and main ideas that the patient has used to repeat back to them in a fresh way.
4. Perception Check. This allows for the client to confirm or deny the precision of you paraphrase. You never want to put words into their mouth so a helpful way make a perception check is to do it in the form of a question. For example “it sounds like______,”or “let me see if I understand this.”

Reflect on the patient’s feelings. You want to go back over what the client has communicated directly through words as well as through nonverbal behaviors in a respectful open-ended approach. You also want to make a fair deduction about what your client may be feeling emotionally. It is imperative for you, the counselor, to choose, cautiously, the words you choose to communicate back to your client. That is why it is important to use the same or similar words that your client has used.

You have to remember that what your client is feeling is very real, and often time very deep. Wrong word choice can often time be harmful to the process.

3. Genuineness

Be honest. Be yourself. Be comfortable. Your actions need to reflect the words you are saying. I talked about this briefly when we walked through listening. Oftentimes, we can say all the right things, but our hearts and minds are far off. We need to be genuine in the things that we say. What we say should be paired with our behavior. For instance, if you have expressed that you are comfortable with helping them navigate through all issues, and you act surprised or uncomfortable when they talk about a more private, or even intimate issue this can be a stumbling block in the growth progress.

4. Unconditional Positive Regard

Regardless of what is said, there needs to be an endless amount of kindness, and expression of caring. You may disagree, or see flaws in their reasoning, but your job is not to argue them to your side, but to gently encourage them to see things through the scope of reality. We all need encouragement, and guidance to help us see things through the scope of reality.

Affirming the patient in their hurt, happiness, or confusion is a good way to convey to your patient that it is okay to be experiencing these emotions.

5. Concreteness

It is important to stay focused on specific and relevant facts and feelings; and to avoid getting off-topic, making sweeping statements, or talking about the counselor rather than the client.

  • Help the client to recognize and pursue growth in one specific area of the several presented.
  • Reiterate the goal to the client, and also the intent and structure of that specific session.
  • Present questions and propositions to help the client clarify facts, terms, feelings, and goals. Like a perception check!
  • Adapt a here-and-now focus. This means that addressing the material that emerges in the room becomes the focus.

6. Open Questions

This is a helpful questioning method to get your client to clarify or explore thoughts, and feelings. When asking open-ended questions, you don’t want to request a specific bit of information or limit the question to a brief answer, or yes or no.

  • The goal is to guide deep explorative thought. If the client is already doing this, you would not need to assist them with an open question.
  • Ask intentional, and purposeful questions.
  • The goal is not to drill them. You don’t want them to feel like they are being interrogated, but to help them work through the issue.
  • You may want to follow up the patient’s response with a paraphrase, which may encourage the client to share more.

7. Counselor Self-Disclosure

This is when the counselor shares personal feelings, life experiences, or certain reactions to the client. As a common practice, it is safer not to self-disclose unless for some reason there is no other way to meet a clinical need. In which case, it should only include relevant content intended to build them up. But recall, empathy does not mean sharing the same experiences but being able to communicate what the client is feeling and thinking in a caring and understanding way.

8. Interpretation

This is any statement outside of what the patient has actually said or may even be aware of. When interpreting the counselor is able to provide a new perspective, provoke thoughts or feelings, or present an explanation for behaviors. Interpretations may help patients connect things that they have compartmentalized, reveal patterns or themes, and it can offer a fresh way of thinking. You want to be sure not to overuse interpretation; because this can come across as assuming or even accusatory.

9. Information Giving and Removing Obstacles to Change

You want to humbly present data, facts, wisdom, resources, or answers to questions. Together, with your patient, identify possible problems that may be hindering their growth process, and think through possible solutions and alternatives.

Thanks for watching this video over basic counselor skills. I hope it was helpful!

See you next time!

Frequently Asked Questions


What is listening as a basic counseling skill?


The counselor must demonstrate listening to build the therapeutic relationship and communicate, both verbally and nonverbally, reception of the client’s message. The nonverbal demonstration of listening is referred to as attending, which is the use of body language (eye contact, nodding, mirroring, leaning forward) to demonstrate that the client holds the counselor’s undivided attention.


What is empathy as a basic counseling skill?


Empathy is the ability to place oneself in another’s perspective to better understand their situation. This can be communicated through the skills of attending to the client both verbally and nonverbally, paraphrasing what the client has communicated, and reflecting the client’s feelings and underlying messages back to them.


What is genuineness as a basic counseling skill?


Genuineness is the verbal and nonverbal expression of authenticity to the client. It is demonstrated with congruence between verbal expressions and nonverbal body language in addition to honesty, empathy, and reliability.


What is unconditional positive regard as a basic counseling skill?


Unconditional positive regard represents the counselor’s focus on the client’s strengths and providing acceptance and empathy despite the client’s weaknesses and in the context of client vulnerability.


What is concreteness as a basic counseling skill?


Concreteness is the counselor’s ability to stay rooted in the relevant facts, feelings, and goals, and to avoid the temptation of the client to go off-topic, make sweeping statements, or to talk about the counselor rather than the client.


What is the use of open questions as a basic counseling skill?


Open questions are those that elicit a response that is more than one or two words. This questioning method is helpful in getting a client to clarify or explore thoughts or feelings without being guided to go any specific direction.


What is the use of counselor self-disclosure as a basic counseling skill?


Self-disclosure is when a counselor shares personal feelings or experiences to assist the client in working through a similar feeling or experience of their own. This skill should be used judiciously and only to help the client in their growth, rather than to build up the counselor.


What is interpretation as a basic counseling skill?


Interpretation is when the counselor makes a statement that exceeds what has actually been said by the client about how the client may be feeling or behaving. This skill helps clients connect things that they have compartmentalized, reveal patterns or themes, and offers a fresh perspective.


What is the use of information giving and removing obstacles to change as a basic counseling skill?


The counselor must humbly present data, facts, wisdom, resources, and answers to questions. Together, with the client, the counselor should identify possible problems that may be hindering the client’s growth process and think through possible solutions and alternatives.




by Mometrix Test Preparation | Last Updated: June 18, 2024