Counselling: Listening and Responding Skills

A learning journal from my counselling course.

In this learning journal I am going to demonstrate appropriate use of a range of listening and responding skills to facilitate the helping interaction, as well as demonstrate appropriate use of questions.  I am combining my exploration of these competencies as I feel they are very closely related.  In particular, it is the appropriate use of listening and responding skills that often impact on the appropriate use of questions.  It is essential to actively listen to the client if questions are to be used appropriately.  In addition, questions are one of the many responding skills within person-centred counselling.

In terms of listening and responding skills, it is essential that the skills used enable the client to experience being heard, understood, and accepted:

Heard: Personal experience and skills practice suggest that reflection is a key tool in demonstrating to the client that they have been heard, as by repeating their words back to them, they are able to hear what you have heard; this confirms that their voice has a place within the room.  Summarising is also important in demonstrating that a client has been heard.

Understood: Paraphrasing is an effective way of demonstrating that the client has been understood, as by rewording their comments but maintaining the same meaning, the client is reassured that not only have you heard what they are saying but you have also processed it and thought about it.  In other words, you have been active with what they have told you rather than passively listening to their words. As with being heard, summarising is also important in demonstrating that a client has been understood.

Accepted:  I feel that the demonstration of acceptance comes from a combination of both verbal and non-verbal listening and responding skills.  From personal experience, acceptance can be conveyed merely through listening without judgment and consistently providing a safe time and place for deep thoughts and emotions to be explored.  Indeed, I think key to demonstrating acceptance is not offering advice, which is an important aspect of the client-centred approach.  Merely being willing to listen without advice giving is invaluable in demonstrating acceptance.

Demonstrating the listening and responding skills that enable a client to feel heard, understood and accepted can help move the therapeutic interaction forward because it is indicative of the three core conditions of congruence, empathy, and most importantly, unconditional positive regard.

The appropriate use of questions demonstrates both listening and responding skills, but only if the questions are appropriate.  Open questions, which prompt the client to talk in more detail, can demonstrate that not only do you hear them but you want to hear them.  It also enables the client to move the session forward according to their own agenda.  An example of an open question I have used in skills practice is, “Can you tell me some more about how that made you feel?” (6.2).


Closed questions, on the other hand, can be restrictive because they can usually be answered with one word.  For example, “Did you enjoy that?” can be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Sometimes such questions are appropriate, such as when trying to clarify and understand something.  On the other hand, when using closed questions it is important to ask whose agenda is being met; it should always be the agenda of the client.


Categories: Counselling, Personal/Professional Development, Psychology

Tags: , , , , ,

2 replies

  1. Great post Nicola. It’s quite hard to keep open minded isn’t it, when you want to sympathise with the client? though essential. I was trained to say, link that on to your next thought… It’s amazing how draining a session could be for me, even though I’d said nothing, I had taken it all in…. That’s why it was part of my code of ethics to keep having my own therapy…

  2. I always find it so interesting hearing your experiences, Susan. During the training we are encouraged to have personal counselling, but I think that even as a fully trained counsellor it is probably wise to continue. Supervision is in place, but perhaps doesn’t always go deep enough.

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