Empathy, compassion and communication are the pillars behind a great counselling or psychology career.
While anyone can undertake a counselling course and build the required skills, it can beneficial to take stock and ask yourself – Is counselling right for me? The below are some of the most basic skills and competencies that counsellors need to help you determine whether you fit the mould!
Empathy & Compassion
The ability to put yourself in someone’s shoes and understand the issues they are facing are both critical for counsellors. Counsellors must be able to feel empathy towards their clients, and must also have enough compassion for their circumstance to want to help them improve and achieve positive results.
However, while it’s important to be empathetic and compassionate, remaining professional is key. As a counsellor, you must be able to separate your personal and professional feelings and ensure your empathy or compassion remains on a professional level.
Ask yourself: Do I feel empathy and compassion for others? Or for any particular issue or situation? Can I draw the line between professional and personal empathy/compassion?
Counselling is essentially a ‘people’ job – and you may need to deal with a range of people and clients on a daily basis. Sometimes, interactions can be positive, and at other times, they can be difficult and challenging, particularly if clients or patients are not open to help.
Ask yourself: Do I have a strong desire to help people work through their problems, even when they resist?
Communication is also of utmost importance for counsellors. You need to be able to listen and often read into what patients are saying, and maintain things like eye contact and positive body language.
You also need to be able to speak confidently and with clarity, with the capacity to explain things, ask questions, challenge clients or get through to them using various communication techniques.
Ask yourself: Am I willing to dedicate the time and effort required to refining my communication skills? What skills do I specifically need to develop throughout my studies?
Not all counselling jobs will be tough, but some can be. Depending on what type of counsellor you want to be, you may find yourself dealing with difficult problems and subjects. These can include issues like abuse, violence, addiction or situations that relate to mental health disorders, and as a result, these experiences can make patients can behave in various (negative, angry, threatening, resistant) ways.
Hence, you’ll need to develop a certain ‘toughness’ in order to provide counselling services, while remaining sensitive to what the client needs. You will also need to be able to put your foot down or take charge if situations become problematic.
Ask yourself: Can I be tough and thick-skinned, while exercising compassion at the same time? Do I have the personal capacity to hear about and deal with certain problems, like abuse or violence? Do I feel confident enough to take charge of a negative situation?
Sensitivity & Non-bias
Sensitivity may mean being ‘delicate’ when dealing with clients and approaching topics in a respectful way, or it can mean being sensitive to what the client is thinking or feeling – while still helping them overcome their problems.
You may also need to show respect towards different beliefs, religions, cultures or values. Being unbiased here and putting your own principles aside to focus on the patient is crucial.
Ask yourself: Am I sensitive to others in my everyday life? Can I respect other cultures, beliefs and values (and counsel others accordingly) even when they conflict with my own?
Counselling isn’t a ‘quick fix’ type of job.
Counsellors must be incredibly patient people, especially since clients can take a long time to work through their problems and achieve change. In some cases, this could take weeks or months, and in other cases it can mean following their journey for years or even decades.
Ask yourself: Am I willing to be patient with my clients? Can I handle counselling the same client for months or even years?
Relationship Building & Trust
It’s vital for any counsellor to foster a strong rapport with their clients, and cultivate relationships of trust, safety and respect. With some clients, this might be straightforward. With others, it can be more difficult and building a positive relationship may take time.
Ask yourself: Am I a good relationship builder? How will I develop relationships with my clients and show that I am trustworthy?
Counsellors must provide consistency in their roles and in the way they behave, react and communicate. This applies to everything from body language to the way you speak and alter the tone of your voice. If you aren’t able to hide the fact that you’re having a bad day, feeling overwhelmed or in a cranky mood, you may find that this can affect your patients – and your counselling abilities.
Ask yourself: Am I the type of person who can show professionalism and consistency in my counselling role?
Understanding of Ethics & Legal Obligations
All counsellors need to conform to strict ethical and legal codes, and it’s imperative that you follow these guidelines at all times. This can involve things like behaving professionally, drawing boundaries between yourself and the client and preventing your relationships from becoming ‘personal.’
Ask yourself: Am I familiar with the ethical and legal obligations involved in being a counsellor? Do I understand what can put me at risk?
Enrolling in a counselling course means that you’ll need to be prepared to study psychology theory, as well as learn and practise various counselling techniques and strategies.
It’s important to understand that counselling is not about providing advice or telling clients how to solve their life problems. Your counselling approach must be evidence-based in order to remain professional and effective.
Ask yourself: Am I willing to learn about various therapeutic models and techniques as part of my counselling course? And if so, does this excite me?
If it does, you may have found your career niche! Get started with a Diploma in Counselling now.