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The characteristics that make up an effective counselor are the personality traits that really define the counselor. Several leaders in the field of counseling have listed many of these personality qualities; self confidence, high energy level, optimistic, sense of humor, neutrality, flexibility, emotional stability, risk-taking experience, analytic thinking, creativity, enthusiasm, honesty, sensitivity, hope, self control, awareness, and knowledge. The research compiled in this paper confirm that it’s the richness of the personality that builds the effectiveness of the counselor. Being an effective counselor requires forming not just a solid relationship with your client, but an emotional experience, where the counselor works with the client in a supportive role to recognize and move through challenges as the goals are achieved.
It’s the counselors and not the psychotherapists that must allow an emotional alliance and empathetic responses to their client’s issues. Overall, the most important personality qualities in any effective counselor seem to center on warmth, genuineness, compassion and empathy. These are the traits that will be addressed the most in this paper. These four traits seem to provide the purest motivation and seemingly guide the direction of the moral compass within the most effective counselors. The biggest obstacle is identifying how to increase these ideal qualities in oneself as a counselor. The answer seems to lie in a consistent daily practice of mind-body-medicine and self-care.
Characteristics of the Effective Counselor
Overall it’s the relationship that influences the therapeutic outcome and it’s the counselor’s personality and character that determine the depth and effectiveness of the therapeutic alliance with the client. Counselors that know themselves benefit their clients the most “…the single most important factor in effective counseling is the person-hood of the counselor, regardless of education, training, theoretical orientation, or counseling technique.” (as cited by Clinton, 2002).
The personality and character of the counselor is the single most important variable, more important than the therapeutic techniques applied. Effective counselors possess a myriad of personal qualities that transcend their theoretical orientation and therapeutic techniques (Clinton, 2002, p. 185). In order to cultivate the best personhood, or personality of an effective counselor, the issue of identifying what these attractive characteristics or qualities are and how to increase and expand upon them becomes paramount. The combination of qualitative and quantitative measurement tools reflects the overall measure of effectiveness of a counselor.
The classic works of Carl Rogers (1957) identified the need for presence, congruence, empathetic understanding and unconditional positive regard. Above all, he stated the importance of congruence by means of compliance between ideal self and actual self in his personality theory.
The third condition is that the therapist should be, within the confines of this relationship, a congruent, genuine, integrated person. It means that within the relationship he is freely and deeply himself, with his actual experience accurately represented by his awareness of himself. It is the opposite of presenting a facade, either knowingly of unknowingly (Rogers, 1957, p. 97).
The idea is to bridge the gaps in all directions, to include the therapeutic alliance gaps that separate the counselor from the client. The idea is to remove all disconnect and just experience each experience as a true and authentic experience, without judgment and without preconceptions. Present moment awareness requires the therapist to take note of the elements that make up each experience, such as sensations, thoughts and feelings. Acknowledgment of these experiences without feeling the need to react or fix anything is critical.
The Golden Triad
The Golden Triad, or “therapeutic triad”, is one invaluable concept of effective counseling characteristics and lays down a solid benchmark for counselor’s to emulate and implement. The Golden Triad consists of the high display of warmth, genuineness, and empathy that effective counselors exude with their clients. The therapist’s persuasiveness, level of attention, understanding, support and encouragement all impact the results of the therapy with the client.
It’s not just therapist’s ability to foster a positive relationship with the client, but specific needs and expectations for improvement must be met for the client (Clinton, 2002, p. 185). Frequently, genuine responses require more self-reflection and mindful attention. Self-reflection promotes awareness of feelings and knowing the appropriate moment to convey them to a client.
Cultivating Empathy and Compassion
The majority of counselors who ascribe to the values of holistic humanistic or existential approaches are less likely to avoid experiencing compassion and empathy as they enter and experience their client’s worldview, so that they can become vulnerable and understand how he/she experiences their world (Bowen & Moore, 2014, p. 18). Although the ability to be vulnerable with clients can yield both negative effects such as compassion fatigue or positive effects such as compassion satisfaction, it’s critical that the qualities of compassion and empathy are made readily available to the client in a balanced and careful manner. Being in a state of mindfulness helps to produce more balanced responses of empathy and compassion, without minimizing therapeutic presence (Campbell & Christopher, 2012, pg. 221).
In order to help cultivate the many beneficial characteristics of an effective counselor, such as compassion and empathy, certain practices should be implemented daily. Mind-body practices such as Yoga, Mediation, Qi Gong, etc. bring awareness and acceptance and help to foster a therapeutic and empathetic presence. The ability for a therapist to be present enhances the therapeutic relationship and promotes healing. The mindfulness presence increases the awareness and acceptance of their own inner experience as well as for the experience of the client (Campbell, 2012, pg. 222).
Awareness and Acceptance
This combination of awareness and acceptance seem to encourage less reactive behavior, by nonreactively recognizing thoughts, emotions and sensations as they arise. This practice also helps to communicate experiences and to be more present to their client’s inner experiences and sufferings in the same moment-to-moment awareness, which additionally helps clients express their body sensations and feelings. Mindfulness practicing therapists learn how to take their minds less seriously and not feel as though they needed to do something when feelings such as anxiety emerge. These mindfulness practicing therapists could also maintain a therapeutic connection with their client and become less reactive to their struggling client’s experiences, rather than sensing their own inadequacy and need to be in control (Campbell, 2012, pg. 221).
The counselors freely chose if or how they were to respond to counter-transference. One choice is by acting as observers and just notice without judgment and without trying to suppress reactions to what was happening in the present moment. This mindfulness seems connected to an ability to tolerate silence and wait through it, allowing new experiences to emerge and genuine encounters to occur. This mindfulness presence allows clients to begin to experience their therapist as individual witness in the midst of their own vulnerability (Campbell, 2012, pg. 223).
The Essence of Therapeutic Presence
According to Rogers, three components exist in attempting to capture the essence of therapeutic presence: being open and available to all aspects of the client’s experience, being open to one’s own experience in being with the client, and having the capacity to respond to the client from the experience. This therapeutic presence is more of a state of being rather than of doing and the beneficial influence of mindfulness extends to all participants in the therapeutic relationship (Rogers, 1957, p. 98-99). Two elements related to therapeutic presence that deserve repeating are attention and empathy, which have been shown to increase through mindfulness practice.
Many practitioners of mindfulness report increases not only in attention and empathy, but in awareness, patience, focus, compassion, responsiveness, the ability to handle strong emotions, and less defensive, judgmental and reactive. (Campbell, 2012, pg. 213) One last concept to point out is that being in present moment awareness with the client occurs on four main levels; spiritually, emotionally, physically and cognitively and requires a deep knowledge of oneself, which can usually be attained through a consistent life-long commitment of integrating a daily exercise routine of mindfulness practices into a demanding schedule. These daily practices may not only induce relaxation states, but can profoundly alter our relationship to ourselves and our minds (Campbell, 2012, pg. 217).
To summarize, the most important tool that an effective counselor has is themselves. The characteristics of an effective counselor are directly related to the counselor’s personality and client relationship. Some key personality traits of an effective counselor are compassion, empathy, awareness, acceptance, warmth, genuineness as well as a congruent and fully integrated individual. One of the most effective approaches in which counselors can cultivate and nurture those qualities can be found in a daily mindfulness practice, which helps to maintain a more solid moment-to-moment awareness as the client experiences the world and the counselor maintains the role of present, nonjudgmental witness. With a consistent and daily practice of mindfulness exercises, the therapist begins to live more in the moment and less in a reactive state. By working continuously towards self-mastery and self-actualization, counselors can provide the therapeutic presence that positively impacts their clients’ growth and well-being.
Bowen, N., & Moore, J. (2014). Common Characteristics of Compassionate
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