Counseling Skills for Psychotherapy

September 19, 2019
Counseling skills largely define the quality of a professional. In today's article, we tell you all about the most relevant ones and how they fit in the therapy framework.

Counseling skills are essential for therapists. For this reason, psychologists and psychotherapists have to implement them during their therapy sessions. They learn these just the way they learn psychological techniques.

The concept of a therapeutic relationship originated in the psychodynamic model introduced by Bordin several decades ago. It’s an ingredient of essential change in any therapeutic model. That is, it must be present throughout treatment if you want it to really work.

There are three components in a therapeutic relationship:

  • The link between a patient and their therapist, determined by emotional tone and mutual collaboration.
  • In addition, the agreement on the objectives they’re to achieve.
  • The agreement on the tasks needed to achieve said objectives.

Some authors, such as Carl Rogers and his humanistic psychology, suggest that the ingredients that should be present in all therapies are:

  • Authenticity and congruence.
  • Unconditional acceptance of a patient and empathy towards them.

In fact, Rogers believed that these components are necessary for any change to take place. In addition to the essential alliance, other skills that benefit the creation of a therapeutic relationship are also necessary.

One of the most important counseling skills a therapist can have is an ability to establish a good connection or rapport with their patient.

Important counseling skills in therapists

A woman comforting another.

To study the variables taken into account in the use of counseling skills, the study conducted by Sloane and others in 1975 on the importance that patients give to these variables and that they consider the reason for their success is mandatory:

  • A therapist’s personality.
  • Their ability to listen.
  • A therapist’s way of gradually encouraging a patient to do what they think they can’t.
  • Their ability to speak in a way a patient understands.
  • The help they offer a patient so they understand themselves.

Other skills

Other authors, such as Ackerman SJ and Hilsenroth MJ (2003) reviewed the publications on this subject and found that the characteristics in therapists that are most likely to promote a healthy alliance are:

  • Flexibility. The way in which a therapist accepts and adapts their way of communicating to the situation and the patient in front of them.
  • Experience. How they show clinical experience.
  • Honesty. Does the patient believe the therapist is sincere?
  • Respect. Is the therapist respectful of a patient’s values ​​and how they express and communicate them in general?
  • Loyalty. The counselor is trustworthy.
  • Self-confidence. The patient feels they know what they’re doing.
  • The counselor shows interest in a patient and their problems.
  • Attention. The professional is aware of what happens in the session. That is, of the patient’s verbal and nonverbal manifestations.
  • Closeness. A patient feels them close.
  • Warmth. The therapist is kind and affectionate.
  • Open-mindedness. The therapist understands and accepts other points of view.

Currently, you can conclude that there’s abundant information about the importance of a therapist’s characteristics in the results of a given treatment. Some studies indicate that the effectiveness of a treatment and session reduction is significantly greater when they put these strategies into place. The opposite happens when they don’t.

What happens during therapy sessions?

A therapist and his client discussing a topic.

Some studies reveal that the first session, when a patient and a therapist meet for the first time, is decisive in the majority of patients. Thus, the patients that can hook patients into continuous treatment show greater verbal ease and diagnostic skills than low-hook therapists.

If you isolate the factors outside the treatment, such as the economic possibilities of the patients or distance they need to travel to attend the session, most experts agree on two fundamental reasons that explain dropouts:

  • On the one hand, the personal characteristics of a therapist and their lack of interest in the proposed intervention approach.
  • On the other hand, the patient believes they improved significantly enough to decide not to continue.

Regarding discontinuance, studies suggest that therapists’ verbal skills influence the final success of a treatment, to the point that the number of dropouts is significantly lower in therapists who have them.

Conclusion on counseling skills

Therefore and in light of the studies we mentioned, it’s important that therapists learn useful skills in therapy. It’s not enough to have good or extensive knowledge of their field, but they also have to know when to put them into practice, how to present them, and how to modify them from patient to patient. It’s in this precision task where training helps a lot.

  • Vallejo, P, M.A. (2016). Manual de Terapia de Conducta. Editorial Dykinson-Psicología. Tomo I.