Structuring Person-Centred Helping

We have all found ourselves in a situation that requires person-centred counselling skills.  Indeed, you don’t have to be a counsellor to find yourself in a situation where you need to provide someone with the time and space to talk through their thoughts and feelings.

When in such a situation, it can be useful to have a structure in place – an introduction, middle, and end.  Even if you, as the helper, only have 10-minutes to listen to the person requiring help, the helpee, using a structure such as the following can help get the most out of the ‘session.’


The helper needs to introduce themselves, which can act to put the helpee at ease.  It is then important to explain to the helpee any limitations you might have as a helper.  For example, you could say, “I am not a trained counsellor, but am currently in training.  I am able to listen to anything you would like to share with me today”

This is also a good time to introduce issues around confidentiality, such as “Anything you say will remain within these four walls, unless you say something that indicates there being a danger to yourself or others.”

Importantly, confidentiality can be highlighted at other points throughout the session, such as if a helpee starts to talk about something they might later regret sharing.  The helper can always remind them of the confidentiality agreement in a sensitive manner (e.g. “Just to remind you that anything you say to me remains in this room unless I feel that there might be a harm to yourself or others”).

The difficult part of the introduction can be inviting the helpee to now lead the session.  One way to gauge how best to commence is to look at the body language of the helpee.  It might be appropriate to ask, “Is there anything you would like to talk about today?”  On the other hand, it might be more apt to note that, “I can see that you are very sad today. Is there anything you would like to talk about?”


It is essential in person-centred counselling that the session comprises the helpee’s agenda.  The helper should direct the helpee sparingly.

The role of the helper is to actively listen to the helpee as they explore their own situation and gain a better understanding of themselves and any action they would like to take.

Active listening techniques include paraphrasing and reflecting upon what the helpee is saying.  This can also be an effective way of confirming your own understanding of the helpee’s situation, as well as expressing empathy.

When necessary, open-ended and closed questions can be used to prompt the helpee, as can observation and comment on body language (e.g. “I notice you clenching your fist as you say that”).


It is appropriate to provide the helpee with a time warning, for example, “We have 10-minutes left to reflect on what you have been talking about.” 

This is also a good time to summarise the session in order to confirm that the helpee has been heard and listened to. Again, this provides the helpee with an opportunity to rectify any misunderstandings.

Another session can be offered or, if the problem requires more than listening, a referral could be made to, for example, drugs support or relationship support, etc.


Categories: Counselling, Personal/Professional Development

Tags: , , , , , , ,

1 reply

  1. Hi Nicola,
    I used to work as a hypnotherapist, and listening the main part of the job. Now me and my husband have a shop, we still spend 95% of the time listening. Everyone needs to talk, and more importantly, be listened to. Great post.

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