Counseling Skills: Definitions and Examples
Preparing for a career in mental health services requires you to research the skills that are needed for a particular profession. By taking the time to research the skills a counselor needs to complete their job effectively, you can better situate yourself to succeed in your field.
In this article, we will define counseling skills, provide examples of these skills, review how to improve them and use them in the workplace as well as how to highlight counseling skills when applying for a job position.
What are counseling skills?
Counseling skills are soft (interpersonal) and hard (technical) attributes that a counselor puts to use in order to best help their clients work through personal issues and overcome obstacles that are currently preventing them from living a full and happy life.
Mastering particular counseling skills could make a great difference in whether or not you can provide your clients with the best opportunities for personal growth.
Examples of counseling skills
There are a variety of skills that are beneficial to a counselor's understanding of their client, and to the client's overall comfort and willingness to be vulnerable about their personal hardships. Here is a list of useful skills that counselors should have:
Active listening is an important skill for a counselor to have. It can be defined as the use of eye contact, facial expressions and gestures to imply that you are engaged and focused on the information the other person is saying. It can help a client feel like they've been heard and validated in the information they chose to share.
There are two types of questioning styles that a counselor should be able to utilize—open questioning and closed questioning. Being skilled in questioning techniques can help a counselor to better interpret what a client is saying and it can help them think more deeply into their personal situation as well.
Open questioning includes all questioning that is directed toward gathering more detailed and complex information. Closed questioning is directed toward more short-ended questions with specific answers.
Counselors should be skilled in organized note-taking techniques in order to record important points that were discussed during the session and information the client provided. This can be used for further analysis later on.
Counselors should be able to interpret vague information that a client shares and place it within the context of what they are going through. Phrases like "I'm just so tired," or "I'm on edge all the time," constitute further information, and it is up to the counselor to interpret this information.
Nonverbal communication competency
Similar to information interpretation, counselors should be able to identify current attitudes or feelings based upon the body language that a client uses during the session.
Counselors need to be aware of how their body language, gestures and tone of voice can affect their client and their willingness to talk about the situation. Having good self-awareness can keep a counselor from accidentally exhibiting signs of boredom, frustration or judgment.
An important skill for a counselor is to be able to build and maintain trust with their clients. This can affect a client's willingness to share information.
A counselor needs to be able to see a client's situation from their perspective in order to best help them overcome their obstacles.
Another skill that can be specific to counselors is the ability to emotionally compartmentalize themselves from their clients and maintain professional boundaries in order to continue healthy client relationships.
Counselors should be able to remember information that was shared with them earlier in the session or from a previous session in order to help guide their questioning toward a particular client.
Confidentiality can be seen as a valued skill for a counselor to have as they must respect their clients and the information they share with them.
Counselors should be able to keep detailed records of their clients, relevant paperwork and session notes to make sure everything stays up-to-date.
How to improve counseling skills
Here are some steps you can follow to maximize your positive impact as a counselor:
1. Enlist a friend for mock counseling sessions
You can potentially improve your counseling skills by asking a trusted friend to be your mock client. Hold a mock counseling session and record yourself.
Afterward, ask your friend how they perceived you, what they liked and disliked about your questions or overall body language and review the footage to conduct your own assessment of your counseling skills and what areas could be further improved.
2. Practice body language analysis
You can practice body language analysis in your daily life. This type of exercise can help with your interpretation of clients and their attitudes about a given topic.
For example, observe the cashier in the checkout line or a person you pass on the street based on their posture, facial expressions and tone of voice.
3. Seek out a mentor within the profession
You can find a mentor who has counseling experience and consult with them about the methods they find most effective during counseling sessions, how they have handled difficult cases and what skills they utilize the most.
Related: Counselor Resume Samples
Counseling skills in the workplace
You should practice your counseling skills and monitor your effectiveness in order to use them in a workplace setting. Here are a few ways you can incorporate your counseling skills into your daily practices:
Be mindful of your body language
You should be mindful of your body language at all times, especially during a counseling session. Depending on the context, a client might worry about being judged when they disclose particular information. Take this into consideration and make sure to maintain a warm expression and demeanor in order to reassure your client that you are there to listen.
Review client notes before and after sessions
You should make sure to look over notes from previous sessions with a particular client in order to prepare for an upcoming counseling session. This can help with information recall, and it can help you better direct your questioning during your next session with them.
Refrain from discussing client information with coworkers
You should refrain from discussing a client's personal matters with coworkers in order to uphold client confidentiality. If you want to consult with your coworker about a particular case, consider keeping the information you provide more general and do not disclose the client's name.
Do not press clients for personal information
In an effort to build trust and increase client comfort, you should be sure to keep from asking clients too many questions. Use the information they offer to you to build a conversation around. In time, they may get more comfortable with you and give you more details.
Related: Counselor Cover Letter Sample
How to highlight your counseling skills
Knowing how to highlight your counseling skills on your resume and during a job interview can be an important factor in whether or not a potential employer finds you to be an agreeable candidate for a position. Here are a few ways to implement your counseling skills on your resume, cover letter and during the job interview:
Include counseling skills in your resume
You can use a combination of your skills and the skills listed in the job description to present yourself as the perfect candidate on your resume. Include your counseling skills in the summary section, skills section and professional experience section of your resume.
This can also be helpful if the company you are applying to uses a keyword tracker to pull your resume from a pool of other applicants, as you list your relevant skills that were also listed in the job description.
Include counseling skills in your cover letter
Use your cover letter as a way to display your counseling skills by incorporating your professional or industry-related experiences into your description of your qualifications. You can also use your cover letter as a way to include desired candidate traits from the original job posting and apply them to your experiences and qualifications.
Demonstrate your counseling skills during a job interview
During a job interview, you have the opportunity to display yourself as an individual who is the right candidate for a counselor position. You can demonstrate the traits and skills you possess in various ways.
Participate in active listening by allowing the interviewer to see that you can engage in positive body language and gestures to indicate interest in what the speaker is saying.
You should also demonstrate trustworthy and compassionate traits that would be comforting and pleasant to a potential client. You should appear open and friendly in order to convey this to the interviewer.