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Introduction

In previous chapters, some fundamental questions were asked about the theory and practice of
counseling. Ultimately, though, counseling is an activity carried out by people. Theoretical
insights or research findings can only be expressed through the behaviour of counselors. The aim
of this chapter is to explore the skills and qualities associated with effective counseling. Much
attention has been given in the counseling and psychotherapy literature to the notion of
counseling skills. Writers such as Ivey, Carkhuff and Egan (see Larson 1984) have attempted to
identify a set of core skills that are necessary for effective counseling, and that can be acquired
through systematic training. Ivey, for example, has broken down the work of the counselor into a
set of microskills. There are, however, serious limitations to the concept of skill in the context of
understanding the activities of counselors and psychotherapists. The idea of skill was first
developed to make sense of fairly simple, short timescale, observable sequences of behaviour in
workers performing simple manual tasks: for example, on an assembly line. The aim of an
analysis of skilled performance is to break down the actions of a person into simple sequences
that can be learned and mastered in isolation from each other. This approach can be seen in the
Ivey model. It can be argued that this way of looking at the task of the counselor is inappropriate,
for three reasons. The first is that many of the essential abilities of the counselor refer to internal,
unobservable processes. For example, a good counselor is someone who is aware of how she
feels in the presence of the client, or who anticipates the future consequences in the family
system of an intervention that she plans to initiate with a client. Neither of these counselor
actions is easily understood in terms of observable skills. The second problem of the skills
approach lies in the fact that it would appear that one of the differences between truly effective
and less able counselors is that the former are able to see their own actions, and those of the
client, in the context of the total meaning of the relationship. Therefore, the skilfulness of an
intervention can rarely be assessed by dissecting it into smaller and smaller micro-elements.
Finally, it can be argued that personal qualities, such as genuineness or presence, are at least as
important as skills. For these reasons it is desirable to find an alternative to the skills approach to
understanding counselor behaviour. A more useful concept would appear to be to adopt the much
broader idea of competence, which refers to any skill or quality exhibited by a competent
performer in a specific occupation. In recent years there has been an increasing amount of
research interest devoted to identifying the competencies associated with success in the
counseling and psychotherapy. This is an area of research that is very much in progress, and
there exist competing models of counselor competence. For example, Crouch (1992) suggests
that there are four main areas of skills development: counselor awareness, personal work,
theoretical understanding and casework skills. Larson et al. (1992) have constructed a model that
breaks down counselor competence (which they term counselor self-efficacy) into five areas:
micro-skills, process, dealing with difficult client behaviours, cultural competence and awareness
of values. Beutler et al. (1986), in a review of the literature, identified several categories of
therapist variables that had been studied in relation to competence: personality, emotional wellbeing, attitudes and values, relationship attitudes (e.g. empathy, warmth, congruence), social

influence attributes (e.g. expertness, trustworthiness, attraction, credibility and persuasiveness),


expectations, professional background, intervention style and mastery of technical procedures
and theoretical rationale. For the purpose of this chapter, subsequent discussion is structured
around consideration of a composite model consisting of seven distinct competence areas:
1 Interpersonal skills. Competent counselors are able to demonstrate appropriate listening,
communicating, empathy, presence, awareness of non-verbal communication, sensitivity to voice
quality, responsiveness to expressions of emotion, turn-taking, structuring time, use of language.
2 Personal beliefs and attitudes. Capacity to accept others, belief in the potential for change,
awareness of ethical and moral choices. Sensitivity to values held by client and self.
3 Conceptual ability. Ability to understand and assess the clients problems, to anticipate future
consequences of actions, to make sense of immediate process in terms of a wider conceptual
scheme, to remember information about the client. Cognitive flexibility. Skill in problemsolving.
4 Personal soundness. Absence of personal needs or irrational beliefs that are destructive to
counseling relationships, self-confidence, capacity to tolerate strong or uncomfortable feelings in
relation to clients, secure personal boundaries, ability to be a client. Absence of social prejudice,
ethnocentrism and authoritarianism.
5 Mastery of technique. Knowledge of when and how to carry out specific interventions, ability
to assess effectiveness of interventions, understanding of rationale behind techniques, possession
of a sufficiently wide repertoire of Interventions.
6 Ability to understand and work within social systems. Including awareness of the family and
work relationships of the client, the impact of the agency on the client, the capacity to use
support networks and supervision. Sensitivity to the social worlds of clients who may be from a
different gender, ethnic, sexual orientation or age group.
7 Openness to learning and inquiry. A capacity to be curious about clients backgrounds and
problems. Being open to new knowledge. Using research to inform practice.

Interpersonal skill
Being able to form a productive relationship with a client, to establish rapport or contact, is
emphasized by all approaches to counseling. The original analysis of this area of competence in
terms of skills led counseling trainers such as Ivey to recommend that counselors practise
listening and reflecting skills. From the broader perspective of a competency analysis, the
therapeutic alliance model (Bordin 1979) emphasizes three of the elements central to the
formation of a good working relationship with a client: the creation of an emotional bond
between client and counselor; the achievement of agreement over the goals of counseling; and a
shared understanding of the tasks to be performed to fulfil these goals. The therapeutic alliance

model provides a general framework for understanding the interpersonal competencies required
in effective counseling. Other theorists have drawn attention to dimensions of interpersonal
relating that contribute to the process of forming an alliance. Rogers (1957), for example, has
proposed that facilitative therapeutic relationship are those in which the counselor can provide
the core conditions of empathy, congruence and acceptance (see Chapter 6). Hobson (1985) has
suggested that the bond between counselor and client grows from the creation of a shared
feeling language, a way of talking together that allows expression of the feelings of the client.
Rice (1974) has carried out considerable research into the importance of the voice quality of the
therapist or counselor. Relationships between people are profoundly influenced by general
factors, such as social class, age, ethnicity and gender. While it is difficult to generalize about the
effect on the counseling relationship of any of these variables, it does seem sensible to conclude
that one of the important relationship competencies for a counselor is that he or she should be
aware of the significance of these demographic characteristics, and be able to adjust his or her
style or approach accordingly.

Personal beliefs and attitudes


Since the examination by Halmos (1965) of the faith of the counsellors, there has been a lively
interest in the idea that all effective counselors might possess similar belief systems or ways of
making sense of the world. The assumption is that counselors are able to help people because
they see the clients problems in a particular way, and that a helper who took a different
perspective might hinder the growth or learning of the client. The most coherent attempt to
identify the beliefs and attitudes associated with effectiveness in counseling has been made by
Combs (1986). In a series of 14 studies, using not only counselors but also members of other
human service professions such as clergy and teachers, Combs and Soper (1963) and Combs
(1986) found that more effective helpers in these professions were more likely to view the world
from a basically person-centred perspective. The studies conducted by Combs (1986) have all
been firmly based in a clientcentred or person-centred orientation, and one of the limitations of
his work has been that he restricted himself only to testing the importance of person-centred
attitudes. It could be that there is a wider set of beliefs that can be shown to be held by effective
counselors. But the work done by Combs (1986) is especially relevant in contributing to an
understanding of the decisions by many people in professions such as nursing, social work and
the ministry to change career and enter counseling: the beliefs and attitudes described by Combs
may in some circumstances conflict with the practices of these other professions. Competence in
the area of personal beliefs and attitudes consists not only of having certain ways of seeing the
world, but also of having accurate self-awareness regarding them. Clients may well possess quite
different sets of beliefs and attitudes, and may even on occasion dispute the legitimacy of what
they perceive to be the way the counselor views things. To be able to handle these situations a
counselor needs to be able to stand back from her own philosophical position in order to let the
client know she is capable of accepting his contrasting perspective. Many training courses,
therefore, include work on values clarification, and this issue is also common in supervision.