Introduction to Counselling

Definition of a Counsellor

Counselling is about to give help rather than advice, advice frequently means telling people what they should or ought to do, and this has no place in counselling. Counsellors look at what is possible, but do not tell clients what they should do. That would be the counsellor taking control rather than the client gaining control. The primary difference between counselling and other forms of helping is the way in which the counsellor listens. A counsellor should always be factual within their notes, you should always take notes after a session while fresh on your mind, taking notes in a session can cause clients to maybe feel worried or nervous on what you’re putting down and also keep you interested and proven to be listening.

The difference between advice, guidance and counselling

Advice: Mainly a one-way exchange, giving an opinion, making a judgement, making a recommendation =Persuasive. Guidance: Mainly a one-way exchange, showing the way, educating, influencing, instructing =Encouraging.

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Skills of a counsellor

Every person who uses counselling skills is designated a counsellor. We can distinguish two broad groups of people who use counselling skills, people who are called counsellors who engage in counselling as a distinct occupation and others who use counselling skills as part of their other skills. They would be temporarily in the role, for example we go to our doctor for something medical or a psychiatrist for something spiritually wrong these establish a helping relationship. What they offer is not counselling however they use counselling skills, they may also be trained counsellors so the dividing line is not clear cut.

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The difference is that the person knows when counselling is taking place and has agreed to it. Other skills you pick up on when counselling are:

  • Respecting personal space keeping legs uncrossed and sitting relaxed
  • Being open with body language,
  • Bringing your body in to talk is being interested and sitting back shows you’re interested and engaged.
  • Memory is the key.
  • Try not to talk with hands or sit on them.
  • Clothing can be casual but formal depending on where you work
  • Setting a good first impression is important
  • Keep facial expressions to a minimum show expression but limit to how much.
  • Eye contact should be minimal keep eyes moving around the face
  • Think about distractions before your client arrives
  • Keep your client informed on what we’re going to do and not do.
  • Being agreeable and willing to be there, and most importantly helping your client to get back on track.

Values of counselling and psychotherapy

Values inform principals. They represent the important way of expressing a general ethical commitment that becomes more precisely defined and action-orientated when expressed as a principal.

At all times counsellors must show a commitment to:

  • Respecting human rights and dignity
  • Protecting the safety of clients
  • Ensuring the integrity of practitioner/client relationships
  • Enhancing the quality of professional knowledge and its application Alleviating personal distress and suffering
  • Fostering a sense of self that is meaningful to the person(s) concerned Increasing personal effectiveness
  • Enhancing the quality of relationships between people
  • Appreciating the variety of human experience between people
  • Striving for the fair and adequate provision of counselling and psychotherapy services

Ethical principles of counselling and psychotherapy

Principles direct attention to important ethical responsibilities, there are six ethical principles that are used which also help on making decisions when looking over them, they are as follows:

  • Being trustworthy – honouring the trust placed in the practitioner, he’s to building good understanding and helps your client being able to open up if the trust is there.
  • Autonomy – respect for the clients to be self-governing, this is important to allow and help our client to gain their ability to be self-directing.
  • Beneficence – a commitment to promoting the clients well-being, always acting in the best interests of the client based on professional assessment.
  • Non-maleficence – a commitment to avoiding harm to the client, do not take advantage of the client at their most vulnerable part in their life i.e. sexual, financial, emotional or any other form of client exploitation.
  • Justice – the fair and impartial treatment of all clients and the provision of adequate services, a commitment to fairness requires the ability to appreciate differences between people and to be committed to equality of opportunity, and avoiding discrimination against people or groups contrary to their legitimate personal or social characteristics.
  • Self-respect – fostering the practitioner’s self-knowledge and care for self, seeking counselling or therapy and other opportunities for personal development as required. The practitioner’s personal moral qualities are of the utmost importance to clients.

Personal moral qualities

The practitioner’s personal moral qualities are of the utmost importance to clients. Many of the personal qualities considered important in the provision of services have an ethical or moral component and therefore considered as virtues or good personal qualities. It is inappropriate to prescribe that all practitioners possess these qualities, since it is fundamental that these personal qualities are deeply rooted in the person concerned and developed out of personal commitment rather than the requirement of an external authority. Personal qualities to which counsellors and psychotherapists are strongly encouraged to aspire include: Empathy: The ability to communicate understanding of another person’s experience from that person’s perspective. Understand and letting them know that you understand Sincerity: a personal commitment to consistency between what is professed and what is done. Being honest, saying something and meaning it. Being able to be sincere and listen to your client rather than talking. Integrity: commitment to being moral in dealings with others, personal straightforwardness, honesty and coherence.

Trust is very important. Resilience: the capacity to work with the client’s concerns without being personally diminished. Being able to hear what your client is saying to you and being able to stay there and not feeling the need to leave or cry with your client because of their story you are hearing, being able to hold your own. Respect: showing appropriate esteem to others and their understanding of themselves. Appropriate esteem and understanding themselves, respect that the person respects themselves. Not judging why they got to that point and help them understand why they got to this point. Humility: the ability to assess accurately and acknowledge one’s own strengths and weaknesses. Believing your good at something, work towards not feeling that you’re put down and low. Competence: the effective deployment of the skills and knowledge needed to do what is required. Keep improving skills, knowing you know what you are doing but you can build on it. Fairness: the consistent application of appropriate criteria to inform decisions and actions. Knowing your able to meet your clients’ needs and if not discuss you could refer them to someone else, also about being fair to self, make sure your always being fair to your clients in the decisions you make. Wisdom: possession of sound judgement that informs practice. Sound judgement, understanding boundaries. Courage: the capacity to act in spite of known fears, risks and uncertainty. To be able to sit and listen to your client’s story, having the courage to be honest to your client.

Non-verbal communication

Awareness of non-verbal communication between the listener and the talker; we try to be aware of how we use our own bodies and how the talker uses their body to communicate.

  • Eye contact – keep eye contact minimal and moving around the face.
  • Facial expression – show expression but be limiting to how much you show.
  • Body posture – keep legs uncrossed and body straight, keep body language open.
  • Body movement – bring your body out to show you’re interested and bring body in when you’re really taking in what your client is saying.
  • Head nodding – is a strong thing to do shows your listening.
  • Proximity/position of chairs – positioning of the chairs is important as not to be directed in front of each other.

Why we use this skill?

  • To show talker that the listener is paying attention.
  • To try to communicate that the listener is present.
  • To create a warm environment.
  • To encourage the talker to open up.
  • To begin to build a trusting relationship.

Minimal encouragers

Minimal encouragers are a form of verbal communication. They are brief sentences or a single word. Examples include:

  • ‘Go on’
  • ‘Tell me more’
  • ‘And’
  • ‘Because’
  • ‘Mmm…….’
  • ‘Ah ha’
  • ‘Oh’

Using some of your minimal encouragers will help to keep your client talking and prompt them to continue in there story.

  • To show the talker that the listener is paying attention.
  • To communicate that the listener is present.
  • To encourage the talker to continue their story.


A reflection is offering back what the talker has said but it includes the feeling that the listener thinks was communicated. Feelings might be contained in the words the talker is using or feelings might also show themselves in how the talker presents i.e. looking sad or showing that they are angry.

Why we use this skill?

  • To check or show that the listener has understood.

Gives client confidence that the listener is actually paying attention in what the client is saying

  • To help the talker become aware of their feelings.

Gives the client the option of discovering what they are actually feeling for themselves.

  • To work closer in the relationship.

Gaining your clients trust to build a relationship.

  • To create a sense of intimacy.

As your allowing your client to hear what they are saying and showing that the feeling you may be providing them with helps them to know you are truly listening to them.


Paraphrasing is to offer back in a few words what the talker has said in order to check understanding and communicate your attention. Paraphrasing can be good to help your client to hear what they have said and they know you have heard what they have said. Helps to show you are trying to understand what your client is saying.

Why we use this skill?

  • To give the talker an opportunity to hear back what they are saying.

As it can be very helpful for your client to hear back what they have said.

  • To check or show that the listener has understood.

It also gives your client confidence that you have listened and heard what they have to say.

  • To invite further exploration of the talker’s story.

It helps your client maybe feel more confident and open to talk more freely. Example:


It’s been a rough week. I’ve done nothing but argue with my partner, the house has been burgled, there’s bad news from the hospital…at least I got a win on the scratch-card.

Listener 1: You got a win on the scratch-card

Listener 2: It’s been a rough week.

Listener 3: You’ve been arguing with your partner

What do you think of the different listener’s responses?

I think listener 2 is a much better response to what the client has said as leaves the story open for the client to decide where they want to go next.

What do the responses say about the listener’s points of view?

Listener 1) is very in appropriate as quite a few bad things gone on for your client.

Listener 2) leaves it open for your client to choose what to talk about

Listener 3) is also a good thing to say but doesn’t give the client a chance really to decide what they would prefer to talk about. * What other responses can you think of?

Maybe number 2) but also ask client to describe maybe the worst part about the week?


A summary is an overview of what the talker has been talking about during the session. A summary can be used during the session as well as to end the session. Think about the main points of a session and say it back to your client. Summarising really helps letting your client know you are really listening and heard what they have said. Knowing if a silence is that your client is thinking, or gone quiet as maybe a bit lost so you could recap what your client has told you. Re capping can help to start your client talking again. Near the end of a session say to your client you have a few minutes left so let’s summarise and the pick out points, once relayed back ask your client if they would like to add anything else.

Why we use this skill?

  • * To communicate that the listener has heard and understood the content of the session.
  • * To gather important points together.
  • * To help the talker decide which points they want to talk about in more detail.
  • * To help the talker if they are stuck, going round in circles, confused or if the session needs moving forward.

Counselling Contract

  • Place, time, dates
  • Number of sessions
  • Confidentiality and limitations
  • Supervision and note taking
  • Model of counselling used
  • Fees and cancellation arrangements
  • Out of session contact

Having a contract helps your client to know what’s expected of them, also what is going to happen.

Confidentiality and Limitations

Offering confidentiality is part of a counsellor’s contract with their clients but there are limits to this at which point further action will be needed.

What are the limits?

  • At risk – a person, who is deemed to be at risk to self or others, so could be talking about harming his self or others.
  • Children – any child at risk of abuse, maybe a partner hurting or abusing the child.
  • Vulnerable persons – vulnerable people at risk of abuse, by client or there partner.
  • Terrorism Act – there is a terrorism hotline number, for instance if someone said they were taking a bomb to the mall ECT.
  • If working for an agency you would follow their guidelines around confidentiality.

If at any time you hear you client talk about any of the limits you have discussed, you need to make your client aware that you have to break the confidentiality. Other limits include:

  • Supervision – client material discussed with a supervisor, although this could be discussed with clients permission about their case but not mention there name.
  • Note-keeping – brief and factual notes made after each session, as a client has the rights to ask for their notes to see.
Cite this page

Introduction to Counselling. (2016, Apr 02). Retrieved from

Introduction to Counselling

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