Communication is not merely a tool in counseling and therapy but the heart and critical component of each session. Imagine listening to a patient speaking out about hidden aspirations, secrets, and innermost fears. So, how will you achieve an optimum outcome in the therapy?
The answer lies in the power of communication. Effective communication and listening deeply to your client’s verbal and nonverbal cues can build trust and create an opportunity for healing. Let’s dive in to learn more.
What does a professional counselor do?
Counseling is a joint effort between a patient and a counselor. They support groups, families, couples, and individuals struggling with disorders and emotional, behavioral, and mental problems. Here are some of the significant roles of professional counselors:
- Assisting clients in identifying goals
- Helping patients understand viable solutions to situations that cause emotional distress.
- Improving patients coping and communication skills
- Strengthening a client’s self-esteem
- Encouraging positive behavior changes
A professional counselor is responsible for helping patients manage psychological issues by supporting and guiding them in learning to change negative thought patterns and behaviors. It is a highly fulfilling career that many find rewarding.
If you desire to assist people as a mental health counselor, it is critical to understand what attributes make an effective counselor before pursuing your counseling career.
You can acquire these skills by enrolling in a reputable institution such as St. Bonaventure for an SBU online mental health counseling masters degree. The program will enable you to assess behavior and psychological functioning patterns and identify the appropriate remedies to these difficulties.
Why are communication skills necessary for counselors?
In today’s complex environment, counselors are working with a growing number of diverse populations with a wide range of needs. Acquiring a solid set of vital communication skills illuminates a path for a successful and effective counselor. Let’s look at some communication skills and why they are a critical aspect of counseling:
Listening actively and empathically
Empathic and active listening is one of the most essential aspects of patient-centered therapy. When done correctly, it provides a powerful, valuable tool in our personal lives, relationships, and professional career.
Active listening, once mastered, establishes, and sustains therapeutic alliances and attachments by demonstrating empathy and offering possibilities for growth and recovery. The approach involves reflecting on the patient’s emotions and providing them with encouragement and support messages to continue their therapy journey.
Empathic listening entails reflecting on the patient’s emotions, such as telling them, “You sound happy and energized.” It demonstrates comprehension, enabling the client to express themselves more by supporting them without being judgmental.
Listening extends beyond hearing. Counselors must understand sensitive unspoken words from the context, body language, speed of talking, timing, and tone of their clients. While empathy and active listening require you to be highly attentive, the latter focuses specifically on understanding your client’s emotional experience.
Ultimately, you must suspend your ego and biases demonstrating that you are paying attention to comprehend rather than respond. Nothing feels better than sharing their important truths, experiences, and feelings as someone listens and pays close attention.
Asking open-ended and thoughtful questions
One of the most effective ways to read your client’s thoughts is by asking. However, it is essential to note that the questions you ask will impact the type of responses you receive.
An open-ended question acquires much information – you ask it, intending to receive a lengthy response. So, why are open-ended questions important in counseling?
- They necessitate pausing, thinking, and reflecting.
- Responses include personal sentiments, views, or thoughts about an issue
- The client gets control over the conversation
Open-ended inquiries elicit respondents’ views and thoughts, providing considerably deeper, more detailed, and frequently subjective information. The approach allows you to understand clients’ emotions and feelings since they explain their points of view.
You can use the information to understand the patient more thoroughly and follow their journey from their perspective. Typically, these questions begin with where, when, how, why, what, or could.
- How: Invites the client to talk about the process or their feelings
- What: Most often provides the emergence of information or facts
- When: Provides timing information, including the following or preceding information
- Where: These questions reveal the place, situation, and environment where the event took place
- Why: Provides information that led to the event or bring out the reason
Why questions might elicit defensive responses from patients and make them feel you are asking them to justify themselves. Therefore, you should take care every time you ask the ‘why’ question.
Mirroring and paraphrasing to build rapport
Mirroring and paraphrasing are the initial and most essential skills you will learn as a counselor. You must not only listen to the clients but should also hear and value them to build rapport. Part of the listening art is ensuring the client knows you can understand their story.
You can accomplish this by repeating sections of the client’s story back to them, commonly called paraphrasing. Conversely, reflecting involves demonstrating that you have ‘heard’ what your client said. Most importantly, reflecting shows that you understand the emotions and feelings they are experiencing while telling you about their experience.
Do mirroring and paraphrasing have any effects on the therapy? Yes! They make the client feel listened to and understood. The client delivers their material and is willing to share it with you.
You prove that you are paying attention by giving them a small amount of the most crucial aspects back by paraphrasing them down. When done correctly and accurately, it corresponds to where they are. They recognize it and feel listened to. And the feeling that someone has heard, validated, and understood creates a safe place that may ignite a spark of hope and create a path toward healing.
Additionally, mirroring and paraphrasing contribute significantly to empathy. Mental health is all about developing an empathic connection with your client, and it is a two-way transaction. Mirroring and paraphrasing should include your client’s feelings and emotions when done correctly.
Doing this will allow you to build and improve relationships with a better comprehension of what is being communicated, both emotionally and intellectually. It is important to remember that clients have unique ways of expressing themselves.
Using appropriate body language
Body language is the unspoken interaction that occurs throughout every direct contact with one another. It tells us what people think about us and how they receive our words.
Body language usually occurs unconsciously. However, an individual’s body language significantly affects the quality of communication.
It may not be easy to make eye contact. It can be awkward, especially if you still need to develop a relationship with the other person.
However, the eyes play an essential role in non-verbal communication. They can sometimes express sentiments that words cannot.
Maintaining eye contact is one of the most fundamental components of dealing with people, particularly patients. Keeping eye contact demonstrates that you are interested and respect what they say. Maintaining eye contact also is critical as it helps your clients gain trust in you.
Once your client notices you are not ‘looking’ at them as you speak, they may become nervous and shy away from talking about their experiences. Moreover, our eyes reveal information about our feelings. Having poor or little eye contact can indicate that you are unconcerned about your client’s issues.
Our hands are expressive as well. People appear more honest and approachable when they make open gestures. For example, open gestures such as moving your hands and pointing fingers can emphasize what you are saying.
Hand movements can make you appear eager and dedicated to your subject. On the other hand, making too many gestures can make you seem uneasy and uncontrollable. Touching your face or wringing your hands might make you appear anxious, tense, and occasionally dishonest.
The head position also plays a critical role during counseling sessions. You should maintain a leveled position vertically and horizontally to show self-assurance and confidence. You can use this position when you want to be authoritative and want the client to take whatever you are saying seriously.
However, you can also play around with your head. You can tilt your head to one side to show you are friendly and receptive.
Vocal cues are critical to the conversation and are even more effective than facial expressions. They signify competence, likeableness, dynamism, trustworthiness, and dominance. However, more and longer vocal cues may demonstrate dishonesty in counseling sessions.
Lengthy pauses when communicating may give the client the impression that you are uncertain or vague. Too much word repetition and unnecessary sounds, such as “um,” may annoy the patient.
Use appropriate tone
Your tone says a lot during a conversation. Besides unspoken communication, such as eye contact, and body language, your tone is a vital component of communication that frequently “speaks” louder than your actual words. It can assist you in the following:
- Developing rapport
- Making connections
- Influencing others
- Achieving your goals in your work and your life
Some examples of tones of voice include conversational questioning, assertiveness, respect, factual, humorous, informal, and formal.
Pitch and volume
Your pitch is the range of how low or high your voice can go. A high-pitched voice can indicate disrespect and offense. Ending a sentence with a higher tone may seem more like a question than an affirmative statement, leaving your client needing clarification.
Speaking too loudly gives the impression that you are harsh and insensitive. If you want to stress anything, slow down the tempo of your speech rather than raise your voice. Pause to emphasize key points or to allow your client time to absorb your message.
How slowly or quickly do you speak when you want to be authoritative? When do you want to have a friendly conversation? You must be conscious of your pace and speaking tone during the conversation.
Slowing down can help your listeners understand what you are saying and absorb your message more effectively. Speaking too slowly, on the other hand, might be perceived as degrading and disrespectful. Focus on expressing and conveying your argument as clearly as possible by speaking at a steady, even speed to get your point across truly.
Providing constructive feedback
Giving feedback to your client about areas that need to change might be risky. They can easily misinterpret it as criticism, eventually alienating the client rather than getting them to their therapeutic objectives. Upsetting clients with your feedback means they may care about something other than what you say.
Nevertheless, you can utilize various strategies to balance destructive and constructive criticism, ensuring you provide effective and beneficial feedback. Determining which one to use may break or make the session and possibly your valuable therapeutic connection!
Concentrate on ‘doing’ rather than ‘being’
Your comments should be directed at their conduct and decisions, not at your client as an individual. Discuss how these habits may be affecting their mental health and those of others.
As you observe their response, break your criticism down into significant points. If you notice interest and acceptance, then you can go deeper.
Ask if you can challenge them
It would help if you devoted time during the start of therapy sessions to define involvement expectations with the client. Clarify that you will be their challenger and best cheerleader.
But you should request permission to do so. Once you can confront your clients, remind them of the agreement, which may unlock the door.
Connect from your heart
Constructive criticism requires a careful balancing act between objectivity and empathy. After thoroughly examining your client’s issue, separate yourself from the equation to allow yourself to see it objectively, and while offering constructive feedback, make sure you do it with empathy.
Maintaining confidentiality and building trust
Confidentiality is an essential aspect of the code of ethics in counseling. Counselors realize that for clients to feel safe discussing hidden and revealing information, they need a secure environment without the risk that their secrets may leave the room. They highly value your privacy.
Once a client seeks therapy, you must build a rapport so that they may communicate openly and honestly about what is bothering them. The guarantee that your clients can confide their stories, thoughts, and feelings to you may allow for a more in-depth investigation of areas of experience that are particularly challenging or embarrassing. This safety contributes to developing deeper relationships and enhances your work as a therapist.
Confidentiality gives them a safe space to explore delicate topics, knowing that their therapist will not repeat or misuse material stated outside of the meeting room. Maintaining privacy within specific limits is an ethical responsibility of the counselor, and it is part of what distinguishes therapy from other interactions.
Can you share a client’s information without their consent? Sometimes, you can share their information without written permission. Some common cases may include the following:
- You may disclose confidential information without the client’s agreement to safeguard them or the public from serious harm. Such cases include when a client reveals plans to commit suicide or hurt another person.
- You can also report and disclose sensitive information in case of neglect or abuse of people with disabilities and ongoing domestic violence.
It is impossible to overestimate the importance of efficient communication in counseling. Communication is a powerful tool that allows patients to feel acknowledged, listened and understood. It allows individuals to communicate their deepest concerns, insecurities, and aspirations without worrying about being judged or disregarded.
Counselors can discover underlying difficulties, stimulate self-reflection, and give practical assistance through active interaction and skilled listening. Ultimately, communication serves as a link between clients and counselors, supporting a transforming path toward healing. Embrace the impact of communication in counseling and expect endless positive opportunities.
Speaks from heart, always too passionate and driven by emotions. Spins the words with kindness & sharpness, intriguing your ever-inscrutable minds.