Counselling skills

Why are these important skills now?

The speed and complexity of modern life continue to increase as do people’s expectations from it. Coping well requires autonomous and flexible thinking and clear decisions. Unfortunately most of us have been conditioned to conform, not think for ourselves.

Counselling skills help people to change as they learn to think things through for themselves and make their own decisions, free of the effects of past conditioning.

What is counselling for?

When we seek, or accept, help with an issue we have been unable to resolve on our own, there is often an emotional component in the situation. We often feel bad about needing help. The problem may itself cause confusing feelings “I like my boss but she/he drives me mad doing X, dare I level with her/him?”. In the latter case feelings of liking, irritation and anxiety are present together.

It is extremely difficult to think clearly when we are feeling strong feelings whether good or bad. The primary function of counselling is to help people think clearly when feelings are present. The feelings can arise from an experience in the present. Hearing “Your job is redundant” would obviously generate negative feelings in most people. Someone who got into trouble with head teachers at school might equally find meeting a senior administrator intimidating. This would remind that person of the earlier painful experience. He or she would then find it hard to think.

What are counselling skills?

The counsellor’s job is to help the other person, the client, help him/her self. If the client is to feel safe enough to be open about her/his thoughts and feelings, he/she needs to feel safe, respected and understood. I list some skills below.

The counsellor must

So that the client can


Develop his/her thinking

Not judge

Feel safe and respected

Pay attention

Know you care

Accept the client’s feelings

Know he/she is not being judged

Understand the client’s world and feelings, put yourself in the client’s shoes. Express that understanding.

Know you are with him/her

Think about the client

Get the best help possible

The counsellor may

So that the client can

Ask questions

Develop her/his own thinking


Hear her/his thoughts and know she/he is understood.

Ask the client to try new behaviour in the counselling session

Release blocking emotion such as. unexpressed anger or sadness.

Counsellors should not

This will make the client



Dwell on their own difficulties


Solve the problem for the client


Give advice

Dependant or hostile

Belittle the clients’ concern

Withdraw or attack

Avoid painful areas

Be frustrated

How does counselling work?

I assume that all humans have immense potential and are intrinsically intelligent, powerful, co-operative, zestful and loving. Unfortunately, this basic nature is often obscured as we grow older.

Our nature is such that we are easily hurt and when hurting our thinking process shuts down. When we act without thinking, the consequences often cause further hurts (distress) which reduce our capacity to think in the situation still further. We then behave in a rigid, stereotyped way every time we experience a situation that reminds us enough of the original situation in which we were hurt. This complex process develops rigid (patterned) responses to situations rather than a flexible appropriate response.

 Fortunately, we had highly effective mechanisms for discharging our hurts and thus recovering our ability to think in any situation. A child that is experiencing, or has experienced hurt, will typically find someone, often an adult, and get this person to pay attention to him/her. The child will then talk actively, laugh, sweat, shake, have a tantrum (storm), cry or yawn. If the adult can stay in touch with the child, perhaps offer a warm hug or hold a hand, the child will discharge the painful emotion exhaustively and then go back to playing etc. quite freely and with no rigidities installed by the hurtful experience.

The above describes the counselling process in its natural state. Unfortunately most adults have had their discharge processes thoroughly interfered with in their childhood so will suppress the exhaustive discharge required because it disturbs them. Children quickly learn that discharging painful emotion is punished and learn further rigid ways of controlling their feelings, when discharging them would be helpful.

In the counselling process the counsellor provides the love, safety and attention necessary for the client to feel her/his feelings and discharge them. The feelings that condition behaviour in rigid patterns may arise from present hurts or past hurts. It is necessary for the counsellor to examine many ways to identify and outwit the client’s patterns, including the control patterns, so they can discharge.

Isolation is a component in almost all hurts so simple, warm, attentive listening is often enough. Where it is not, the counsellor has to listen well enough to understand where the client is hurting. Then he or she must think how to show to the client that the rigid injunctions he/she feels are distress not reality and do so. An example could be a client whose hurt is about being accommodating and being exploited who says “I have to put up with it, I am lucky to have a job”. The counsellor might ask the client to stand proudly and say in a confident tone “I am NOT going to be a victim ever again”. S/he would find this difficult to say and would laugh, cry, sweat and perhaps get angry trying to do so. This would, when persisted in, discharge the hurts that installed the victim pattern in the first place. Following discharge, the client can think clearly about the painful experiences and decide what to do freely without the compulsion of the “victim” pattern.

There are literally hundreds of techniques like the above to deal with particular distresses.

What are the implications for organisations?

Staggering! Most of the problems of organisations require people to work together to solve them. Listening is the key skill required. Counselling training is the best way to get people to appreciate the value of listening and want to listen well.

Organisational performance depends on the quality of the thinking of staff at all levels. Counselling enhances the ability of the client to think and his/her willingness to act powerfully.

These skills are vital to get the best from people and therefore for all managers.


If you would like help using this idea, or have any comments or questions please contact me. Thanks, Nick