A personal counselling session Counselling Skills 1 Counselling sessions can help us work through a range of personal issues from everyday hardships to potentially life threatening situations. In this reflective essay I propose to put theory to practice by analysing and reflecting upon a one hour session with a professional counsellor. The session is to be recorded so I can refer to particular instances during the session. By discussing this particular experience in detail, I can begin to understand the specific skills a counsellor may use in many different situations in order to help others (Egan, 2007, p. 3). In this reflective essay I will focus on particular areas of face-to-face counselling that could often be overlooked such as body language, empathy, rapport building and questioning. These subtle skills a counsellor could use may seem insignificant, when really it can determine the difference between a helpful or a non helpful session. Before the session I was un-sure of what to expect as I had not previously received any professional counselling to my discredit.
Feelings of nervousness and anxiousness came over me on the way to the session as I was unsure where to start or how in depth the session would be. I seemed to prioritise in my head what issues in my life I would focus on and I also thought about what specific questions the counsellor may ask. Generally, when I meet new people I always seem to have feelings of apprehension to how they will perceive me. I worried about talking too openly as I felt I had many personal issues in my life during this particular period.
The thought of exposing these issues scared me as I was unsure of how I or the counsellor may react. After seeing the receptionist, I sat in the waiting room, feeling a little calmer as the staff were approachable and friendly and also because I was the only person in the waiting room. I barely started reading a terrible magazine when my new counsellor came to greet me with a warm smile and her right arm outstretched, signalling the direction her office was. I noticed the empathy she expressed from my first impression of her in the form of these signals (Egan, 2007, p. 6). I instantly felt a little relieved as now the initial face-to-face meeting was over and done with. She maintained constant eye contact and she had a re-assuring expression on her face which made the first greeting easy and comfortable (Egan, 2007, p. 69). Initially, the female counsellor said ‘Hi Andrew, now before we start we will just go through some quick paperwork to get it out of the way. ’ I didn’t realise at the time, but this could be used as a technique to help the client to feel more relaxed and open at the start of the session.
At the time it seemed like a logistical process but I noticed she started taking notes immediately and she seemed professional and proficient enough to not let it intervene with the flow of conversation (Clarke, 1998, p. 151). In hindsight, it seemed a valuable technique to bring about open and free talking from my perspective. The paperwork, which consisted of questionnaires involving a ranking system, was completed and the counsellor then suggested “now let’s talk about your history, starting from your family. At this point, the conversation between the counsellor and I was flowing and there was already a relaxed atmosphere after the initial paperwork. I did not feel the nervousness i had felt before I arrived so I did not have any trouble talking openly of my siblings and parents. I noticed the counsellor was very good at allowing me to speak and go off on different tangents as I suspect many clients do (Egan, 2007, p 77). She was calm, warm and friendly. I noticed this upon our first greeting in the waiting room and consistently throughout the session.
It was very hard to avoid her eyesight when she was talking and she used hand and body language consistently (Clarke, 1998, p 165-166). I started talking about my family, to which she asked a few questions such as “are your parent still together? ” to which I later realised promoted a shift in thinking as I started to talk more about relationships. This seemed to be my main focus during the session as I kept reverting back to these problems and she allowed be to do so freely.
Here is a word-for-word account during a section of the session, where I was primarily focused on relationship issues. I think it’s important to note the subtle questioning and silence techniques involved and the way the counsellor used these skills to promote further talking and clarification (Clarke, 1998, p. 166). The techniques she used could also help progressively build the client-practitioner relationship so I can feel more disclosure in later sessions (Gabriel, 2005, p. 20). Counsellor – “so how long have you been with your new girlfriend? Me- “Um probably about 8 weeks” Counsellor – “oh that’s great news” (The counsellor then waited silently for my reply) Me – “Yes, but I’m worried about when my ex-wife returns to the country. I have a large social group but lots of people are still friends with her. I just don’t want it to hurt the new girlfriend as it would be unfair on her. ” Counsellor – “oh, I imagine that would be very hard to cope with. It seems that you must like the new girl quite a lot if you’re worried about seeming unfair towards her. ” Me – “Yeah I do.
She’s lovely and has been really caring and supportive towards me, which is why I suppose I’m so worried about hurting her feelings. ” This word for word example shows how the counsellor was actively listening by asking questions and reinterpreting what I was saying. She clearly showed empathy by saying “oh that’s great news” then let silence do the rest of the work as I quickly filled the gaps then promptly responded (DeVito, 2009, p. 140-141). It also made me think about the positive things I have going in my life at the moment and the slight realisation that its not all that bad.
After I left the counselling session, I felt relieved as though I had a load off my chest. I realised the counsellor let me express what I wanted to but used history as a guise. I spoke freely about all aspects of my life and the counsellor didn’t need to say too much. She quietly, but professionally took notes when a point of interest arose but didn’t let the note-taking affect the flow of talk. I noted that expressions on people’s faces can greatly determine the nature of the conversation. If someone looks easy to talk to, then they probably are as their body language can emphasise and express feelings (Egan, 2007, p . 4). I noticed the importance of simple and respectful questioning and how it promotes more talking. If the question requires the client to think and reflect on the situation at hand then I believe it is a worthy question to ask (Egan, 2007, p. 95).
Open questions that my counsellor asked such as “how do you think you will react when your wife comes back to Australia? ” challenged the way I was thinking at the time and promoted reflection (Egan, 2007, p. 176). The response from me was “Um, I’m not too sure, but I know I will have to act like an adult and try and be rational. It really made me think that if I don’t take the ‘higher ground’, it will be much harder to deal with. I believe this shift in thinking was a mild breakthrough in the session and I believe it was the main benefactor in my relieved feelings after the session. I think giving the client something, even if small, to take away from the session is important so the client can keep reflecting after the session is over. I was not set any homework from the counsellor during this session but I think that would be a great way to keep clients engaged during their own time.
I thought that the rapport building and the foundation towards a good client-counsellor relation ship can help a client feel like they have someone to talk to who will listen and understand (Egan, 2007, p . 78). My counsellor seemed very good at active listening and I definitely noticed she was listening as her body language and tone of voice suggested so (Egan, 2007, p 76). Every time I spoke she would nod, maintain eye contact and speak by saying ‘ok’ or ask another question regarding the topic such as “do you think you will you be ok with this?. Egan in (2007) suggested that during the first stage of helping or counselling someone, you focus primarily on clarifying the client’s key issues so they can then identify what needs change (p. 26).
When reflecting on the session later I believed the counsellor did a great job at this as she clearly identified the contentious issues in my personal life by asking clever, open ended questions at the time presented (Egan, 2007, p. 121). I did also notice that the counsellor had a stutter and she seemed to stumble on the word ‘ok. This was a strange experience as I felt a little awkward when she was stuttering on the word but I knew and understood that it was something she could not help. I think for most part, I felt a sense of pity in the fact that it would have been very hard for her to cope with a speech impediment her whole life. Still I found it extremely hard to let her know that I felt some empathy and even sympathy towards her without saying it as I assumed it would discomfit her. However, I quickly got used to it and it almost seemed appropriate that the particular word she had trouble with was ‘ok. After listening back to the recording I noticed that she didn’t ask any questions which could promote a defensive response from me and I didn’t feel the need to play any games by answering untruthfully (Corey, 2009, p 63). I suspect people that are forced to commit to counselling sessions, maybe for legal reasons might play these games or act defensively as it is probably not their wish to be there. I believe that clients also need to be asked the right questions and in the appropriate manor which is reliant on the situation to avoid defensive behaviour (Egan, 2007, p 121).
The calm form of questioning and rapport building between the counsellor and I was vital in starting a good relationship and it had a positive impact (DeVito, 2009, p. 88). Overall I felt the experience was extremely valuable to my personal and professional development. After analysing and reflecting on this session I can understand how important these small and subtle skills are. With practice I can begin to implement these skills in my day-to-day life and also as a professional counsellor.
References Clarke, J. (1998). Advanced Professional Counselling. The fundamentals of human behaviours & the theory & practicalities of counselling. (6th ed. ) Alderley QLD: Merino Litho. Corey, G. (2009). Theorhy and practice of counselling and psychotherapy. (8th ed. ) Belmont, CA: Thomson Higher Education DeVito, J. A. (2009). The interpersonal communication book (12th ed. ) US : Pearson Education. Egan, B. (2007). The skilled helper (7th ed. ) Pacific Grove, CA: Wadsworth Group. Gabriel, L. (2005). Speaking the unspeakable. The ethics of dual relationships in counselling and psychotherapy. NY: Lynne Gabriel.