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Interviews require the use of skills – for example, careful listening, noting nonverbal cues, monitoring the progress of what a client is saying while participating and taking notes, and require careful planning and preparation. A counselling interview (taken from ICCS Diploma of Counselling Participants’ manual) is structured by a number of phases in the session. They are:
* Phase 1- Arrival (5 mins)
* Phase 2- Connecting (10 mins)
* Phase 3- Exploring the client’s world (30 mins)
* Phase 4- Taking action (10 mins)
* Phase 5- Closure (5 mins)
Communication techniques including counselling micro skills
Good communication techniques are imperative to the counselling session.
1) The counsellor aims to get the client to talk freely and openly. Micro skills used: Attending behaviour, such as appropriate eye contact, attentive body language, and communicates genuineness. 2) The counsellor tries to clarify and gather information from the client Micro skills used: Active listening, reflection of content/ paraphrasing to clarify. Use open and closing questions, and summarising to gather more information. Use minimal prompts, encouragers and reflection of feeling.
3) The counsellor offers empathy and understanding to the client and builds rapport, relationship and trust. Micro skills used: Reflection of feeling, warmth, genuineness, respect and congruence.
Communication barriers and resolution strategies
A communication barrier is anything that prevents one from receiving and understanding the messages others use to convey their ideas, thoughts and information. These barriers may be related to the message, internal barriers related to thoughts and feelings, or external barriers. Internal barriers include: fatigue, disinterest, poor listening skills, past experiences with the client, home or work problems.
(QCOSS, 2007) External barriers include: noise and other distractions, unpleasant environment, problems with technology or equipment. (QCOSS, 2007)
Skilled listeners attempt to be objective by consciously trying to understand the speaker without letting their personal opinions influence the message of the speaker’s words. They try to understand what the client wants to communicate, not what they want to understand. Effective counsellors will use alternate resolution strategies to overcome barriers, such as interpreter services, communication boards, translating equipment, sign language, and referrals to other professionals if required.
Aim of counselling interview
The main aim of the counselling relationship is the view to Phase 4- Termination. The counselling interview is to empower the client into making clear decisions, expressing an understanding and non-judgemental observation whilst building a trust relationship, and to assist in goal setting if required.
Observational techniques, including facial expressions, non- verbal behaviour, posture and silences. A study by Albert Mehrabian in 1971 provided some interesting information about the relative importance of verbal and non-verbal messages in determining the receiver’s impression of the sender’s emotions. On average, words contribute to 7% of total influence, while tone of voice and visual clues contributed 38% and 55% respectively. (Mehrabian. A, 1971) Gerard Egan defined the acronym SOLER as part of his “Skilled Helper” staged approach to counselling. It is a non-verbal listening process used in communication. The following was retrieved from Steven Lucas’ (2012) Counselling Central webpage: S: Sitting squarely says “I’m here with you, I’m available to you.”
Turning your body away from another person while you talk to him or her can lessen your degree of contact with that person. If, for any reason, facing the person squarely is too threatening for them, then an angled position may be more helpful. O: Adopt an open posture. Crossed arms and/or crossed legs can be a sign of lessened involvement with or availability to others. An open posture says you are open to the client and what he or she has to say. It is non-defensive in nature. L: It is possible to lean in towards the client. It says, “I’m with you, I’m interested in you and what you have to say.” Leaning back can suggest the opposite.
Remember not to lean too far forward, or this may be seen as placing a demand on the client. He or she may find it intimidating. E: Maintain good eye contact. It’s another way of saying, “I’m interested, I’m with you.” Remember this is not the same as staring. You will need to look away every so often, in order not to stare, but monitor the amount you look away. It could say something about your own level of comfort/discomfort. R: Be relaxed or natural. If you are fidgeting nervously it will distract the client. Being relaxed also tells the client that you are comfortable with using your body as a vehicle of personal contact and expression. It helps put the client at ease.
Client’s style of absorbing information including visual, auditory and kinaesthetic A client’s preferred style of absorbing information guides the way they learn. It also changes the way they internally represent experiences, the way they recall information, and even the words they choose. The best approach for a counsellor is to address a variety of learning styles when in a counselling session. It is also helpful to encourage the client to understand their preferred learning style, be it visual, auditory and/or kinaesthetic. The following information on the three main learning styles has been taken from B.W. James (2009) tutoring website:
* take numerous detailed notes
* tend to sit in the front
* are usually neat and clean
* often close their eyes to visualize or remember something
* find something to watch if they are bored
* like to see what they are learning
* benefit from illustrations and presentations that use colour
* are attracted to written or spoken language rich in imagery
* prefer stimuli to be isolated from auditory and kinaesthetic distraction
* find passive surroundings ideal
* sit where they can hear but needn’t pay attention to what is happening in front * may not coordinate colours or clothes, but can explain why they are wearing what they are wearing and why
* hum or talk to themselves or others when bored
* acquire knowledge by reading aloud
* remember by verbalizing lessons to themselves (if they don’t they have difficulty reading maps or diagrams or handling conceptual assignments like mathematics).
* need to be active and take frequent breaks
* speak with their hands and with gestures
* remember what was done, but have difficulty recalling what was said or seen
* find reasons to tinker or move when bored
* rely on what they can directly experience or perform
* activities such as cooking, construction, engineering and art help them perceive and learn
* enjoy field trips and tasks that involve manipulating materials
* sit near the door or someplace else where they can easily get up and move around
* are uncomfortable in classrooms where they lack opportunities for hands-on experience
* communicate by touching and appreciate physically expressed encouragement, such as a pat on the back
Cultural/ other differences working against development of client Consideration of the diversity of a client’s values, beliefs and cultural expectations is imperative for practising counsellors. Cultural differences working against the development of a client can be the client’s:
* Religious and/or spiritual beliefs and values * Ethnicity and culture may have an impact on a client’s behaviour, eg different interpretations of body language * The client’s view of time and making and keeping strict appointment schedules * Cultural views of the social significance of age and gender Another factor towards inhibiting the development of a client is the counsellor’s lack of awareness of their own cultural background/experiences, attitudes, values, and biases that might influence their ability to assist clients from diverse cultural populations.
It is essential that you correct any prejudices and biases you may have regarding different cultural groups. Self-evaluation, including biases, values and working from a client’s frame of reference Evaluating one’s performance as a counsellor is very important. Self-awareness of biases, values, attitudes and beliefs, and why we behave the way we do can assist us to differentiate between our own responses and that of our client. Some methods of self-evaluation used are:
* Organisational feedback forms for clients
* Internal online monkey surveys
* External stakeholder surveys
As a counsellor, we can never work with a client from our own frame of reference. ‘Stepping in the shoes’ of the client from their viewpoint and seeing the client in the context of their culture, background and family helps us truly understand the client.
Potential impacts of using identified communication skills and techniques in a range of counselling contexts Potential impacts of using identified communication skills in a range of counselling contexts can be rewarding and fruitful for both the client and counsellor. Communication techniques, such as challenging and confronting are not yet my forte, and I struggle with how I may apply it, but understand the impact of its purpose and usefulness. Building a rapport and trust, using micro skills, showing empathy, reflection of content and feeling, and working through communication barriers, impacts the client/counsellor relationship in a positive way. It is a privilege to share the client’s journey while they are in our lives.
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