In this reflective essay I will provide an analysis of the counselling session I conducted and recorded. This will include a summary of the session. I will also describe the micro and advanced counselling skills utalised, as well as a critical evaluation of their effectiveness. A discussion of my application of these skills, as well as areas of possible improvement will supported by reference to relevant literature.
Summary of the session.
Leesa is a 37-year-old woman who I have seen around four months previously. At the previous session Leesa spoke of her frustrations at work and of her hopes of securing a promotion. Leesa’s presentation was one of lethargy consistent with someone who was suffering feelings of depression. I began the session by welcoming the client and reminding her of the confidentiality agreement. Leesa had previously worked in the hospitality industry but explained that had decided to terminate her employment after being overlooked for a promotion. She also explained that she had felt a lack of fairness and respect from her employer and fellow employees. Since leaving her position in hospitality Leesa had sought employment through an agency that provides office work opportunities. Leesa explained that she had had four different jobs in the past three months and that she was experiencing a similar feeling of being disrespected.
Leesa spoke of experiencing a lack of self-confidence at the moment and a feeling of being stuck as well as frustration and uncertainty around her future direction. However the client was able to identify that she would like to be more financially secure, feel respected at work and to achieve a greater sense of confidence. Leesa spoke of a time when she enjoyed her work and private life more, and was able to relate some of the key differences that contributed to her feeling more respected and confident in general. The client identified that she would like to seek alternative employment that allowed her to take on grater responsibility and that involved less travel. Leesa believed that her employment agency may be able to assist her, but admitted that she had not been discerning about the kinds of roles that she took recently due to her financial situation.
She also disclosed that she had been isolating due to her current state of mind. Accepting a homework challenge Leesa agreed to approach some friends to see if she could catch up with them at the next weekend. She also agreed to compile a list of the sorts of jobs that she felt she was qualified for and believed that she could achieve a greater feeling of responsibility and respect. Leesa said that she would approach her employment agency to see if they could help, and that she would bring her list to the next counseling session.
Counselling skills application.
Reflecting upon the counseling session it is clear that I utalised a range of conversational micro skills.
Hackney & Cormier (2009) & McLeod (2007), explain that a counsellor leads by following the client, which is done by encouraging the client to tell their story using verbal and non-verbal encouragers. Another way to explain what attending is that it allows the client to continue talking with minimal interruption (Armstrong, 2006). When watching the recorded session I could observe numerous occasions where examples of attending behaivour are present. For example my posture was relaxed and I leant forward. My tone of voice was moderate and consistent, and I maintained eye contact. I constantly nodded my head and aid “mm hmm or, oh really”. This combination of skills conveyed that I was interested and empathetic to what the client was saying. Similarly Egan (2010) describes an effective guideline for turning into clients as represented by an acronym: SOLER, which is important in the beginning of any counselling session. This means;
S – face the client squarely
O – maintain open posture
L – lean towards the other
E – good eye contact
R – relaxed and natural in these behaviours
Throughout the session I used a range of minimal responses that let the client know that I was interested and engaged in what she had to say. It also conveyed that I was empathetic towards her situation. Geldard and Geldard (2009) explain that minimal responses not only convey that the counselor is listening, they can also be used to convey a message, such as surprise, agreement or even to challenge what has been said. The meaning of these minimal responses is also influenced greatly upon the delivery of them. Tone of voice, facial expression, posture and eye movement all help to determine the way in which these messages are received. An example of a minimal response I made that conveyed empathy would have been; when the client was describing her feelings of not being respected in her workplace and I responded by saying: “sounds horrible”. This short response did not interrupt the flow of conversation, and encouraged the client to continue. My tone of voice and facial expressions were also congruent with someone who empathized and was interested in what was being said.
Summarising, paraphrasing and reflection of feelings are all examples of counselling micro-skills that let the client know that the counselor is listening and understanding them correctly. Although it is important to try to respond accurately it is not essential as an incorrect response can encourage the client to re-think what they have said and then clarify it, possibly resulting in a better understanding for both parties. Geldard and Geldard (2009) explain that these reflections also serve as deepening the therapeutic relationship. And that the most important to be: “ genuinely yourself and aim to create a real, trusting, caring empathetic relationship with the person seeking help.” Examples of when I utalised reflective listening techniques would include: When the client had explained the reasons why she had left her previous employment, I reflected back by saying: “ So you’ve left there you weren’t happy with that job, you felt like you were unfairly treated, is that..?” Another example would have been after the client had explained that she had experienced a number of negative employment situations within a short period of time. I reflected back: “ Would I be right to suggest that perhaps you are feeling a bit stuck, you’re not really sure what you are doing? ”.
Questioning Techniques and Advanced
During the session I used a range of open and closed questions. I opened the session by referring back to the subject of her difficulties at work covered in the previous session and then asked: “ How has that been going?” Later I asked the client: “Can you tell me a little more about the situation, what was going on for you?” Overall I was happy with the mix of open and closed questions. It felt like I was getting the information I needed, without interrupting the client. The counseling modality I used was solution focused. I tried to structure the session with Egan’s ‘Three Stage Model’ in mind. Egan (2010) provides a structured and solution focused approach that can be broken into 3 major sections. The initial part of the session saw me ask a range of questions designed to ascertain ‘what was going on?’ For the next section: ‘What do I want instead?’ I used a range of questioning techniques. For example: ‘scaling questions’. At a point in the session it had been identified that the client had become stuck and was unsure of what direction to take due to a series of negative experiences at work.
The client had agreed that a pattern had emerged she felt disrespected at work. At this point I also felt a little stuck. It felt as if I should explore this as a theme and try to help the client to identify her blind spots. However I also felt like it might be counterproductive to challenge the client at that stage, as she appeared to have a low self-image. At the time, although uncertain it felt a little dangerous to examine her role in the situation. In order to firstly establish that the clients self esteem was low, and to then help her to identify what would have to change for her to feel better I asked her to rate her level of self-esteem, or confidence on a scale of one-to-ten. Her response was a three. This strategy was useful in establishing that the client was unhappy and felt stuck in her situation, and therefore provided a platform to work with.
However it was not successful in helping the client to identify ‘what she wants instead’ (Egan 2010). I was unsure at this point as to weather the client was genuinely uncertain of what she would like to change or if she was reluctant to say. It was this feeling that led me to self-disclose. This gave me the opportunity to express empathy indirectly and to help the client feel like the relationship was equal. Geldard and Geldard (2009). It was also useful in clarifying that she felt frustration and not the anxiety that was present in my disclosure. In an effort to move to Egan’s second stage I chose to ask a variation of the ‘miracle question’. De Jong and Berg (2008), propose that the miracle question allows the client an opportunity to step out of their current situation for a moment and consider the possibility of something better (as cited in Corey 2013). Although the client’s response was not immediate she could identify that she wanted “to be more financially stable, to have more confidence, and to be respected.”
I then asked the client “ Has there ever been a time in your working like, that you can remember where you felt respected and happy at work?” This question had an almost immediate positive reaction, as evidenced by the clients change in posture and facial expression. This coincided with what might have ordinarily been the negative situation of a refrigerator making a loud noise. However this situation added a useful element of humor that would probably not been possible. “Both clients and counselors can enrich a relationship through humor” (Corey 2013 p.31). Having identified that there was a time when things were different, coupled with the comfortableness achieved through humor, it felt like I had permission to ask what was different in her personal life at that time. The responses gave me the information I needed to begin to help the client look at Egan’s (2010) third stage of ‘how do I get to what I want?’ This also gave me the opportunity to work with the immediacy that was evident in the change of mood when the client reflected upon a time when her life was going well. This person-centered approach added a real sense of genuiness to the relationship and allowed the client to identify emotionally connect with the difference in her life at that time (Corey 2013).
During a summary of what was different, when the client’s life was going well new information was disclosed that the client had not been discerning about the jobs that she took due to her financial situation. I made the comment that; “that was understandable, we all have to pay our bills”, thus normalizing the clients experience, Normalising a clients experience can help them to look at their situation more positively Geldard and Geldard (2009). This was useful as the session moved into the third stage of the framework provided by Egan (2010). During this stage we brainstormed ways in which the client could access alternative employment, and also how to achieve greater life balance through
recreational activities. The client agreed to continue to develop this list and to approach some employment agencies. She also agreed to contact some friends socially the following weekend as a homework tasks. Tompkins (2006) suggests that there are clear advantages to the counselor and client working in a collaborative manor in negotiating mutually agreeable homework tasks. (as cited in Corey 2013). I felt that overall the session went well. At times I think I could have injected more energy into my responses. It is strange, as I felt more enthusiastic inside than what was conveyed. I was happy that I could work to a framework and I found that I enjoy the positivity of the solution-focused modality. It did seem a little too perfect at times, which is difficult to avoid in a role-play situation.
Armstrong, P. (2006). The practice of counselling. Melbourne: Thomson Higher Education Corey, G (2012). Theory and Practice of Counselling and Psychotherapy. 9th.Ed. Melbourne. Canage Learning. Egan, G. (2010). The Skilled Helper 9th Ed. Belmont, USA: Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning.
Geldard, G & Geldard, K (2012) 7th Ed. Basic Personal Counselling: A Training manual for counsellors. N.S.W Australia. Pearson.