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Basic Counseling Communication Skills

Keywords/Encouragers, Open/Closed Questions, Paraphrasing.

Jon Rosenfield

on 4 October 2013

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Transcript of Basic Counseling Communication Skills

Basic Interviewing Skills
A 60-year-old woman says,
“I feel like someone who would read my resume would say, ‘who is this dummy?’”
Practice – Clarification
Many messages are from the client’s internal frame of reference, and may be vague and confusing. When you are not sure of the meaning of a message, CLARIFY – don’t make assumptions (but be mindful of how your clarification is phrased):

“Could you describe...?”
“Could you clarify...?”
“Are you saying...?”

Using a Clarification Response

“Silence is a source of Great Strength”
Lao Tzu

“This is the problem with dealing with someone who is actually a good listener. They don’t jump in on your sentences, saving you from actually finishing them, or talk over you, allowing what you do manage to get out to be lost or altered in transit. Instead, they wait, so you have to keep going.” 
Sarah Dessen


Did you never even consider her feelings?
Asking several questions all at once and each addresses different issues or content:
E.g., “So your father drank too? So your mother sided with your brother? Did you end up reporting him?”
Do you want to make a change?
Obtain specific information

Interrupt an over-talkative client

Helpful when a client tends to go off on tangents, is evasive, or becomes overly detailed in his/her answers
(When to use) Closed-Ended Questions:
Not inherently “wrong”
They tend to discourage the client from talking and slow the flow of conversation
They reduce the depth of responses and suggest that the client choose from options you have selected
Might lead to frustration for the client
Can be subtle ways of giving advice or airing your opinion
Drawbacks of Closed-Ended Questions
Closed vs. Open-Ended Questions
Solving problems
“What options do you have?”
“What have you thought of doing?”
“How do you feel about each of these options?”
“What is the best thing that could happen?”
“What is the worst thing that could happen?”
“What do you think will actually happen?”

Can’t be answered by one or two words
Does not suggest a particular answer
Usually starts with “how” or “what”
Be cautious of using “why” questions

“Tell me more”
“Go on”
“Um-hmm” or “Uh-huh”
“And…” “Then…” “So…” “Oh…”

Basic Skill:
Minimal Encouragers

Display appropriate empathy - avoid conveying judgement through expressions
Ineffective Listening

"I only wish I could find an institute that teaches people how to listen... Too many people fail to realize that real communication goes in both directions."
Lee Iacocca
Example – Clarification
Assumptive questions (giving the client the impression that the counselor expects a particular answer – “You don’t want that, do you?”)

Pitfalls in the Use of Questions

Find a partner and discuss each other’s summers
Round 1 – use only closed questions
Round 2 – use only open questions

Switch roles and repeat the exercise
Taste Test (closed vs. open)

Can be answered by “yes,” “no,” or one- or two- word response

Starts with “is,” “do,” “have you,” etc.
Closed-Ended Questions
Basic Skill: Attending Behaviors
Basic Skill:
Open Ended Questions
How would you describe ineffective listening?
“What people really need is a good listening to”
Mary Lou Casey

“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”
David Augsberger
Work on them!
Eye contact
Communicates caring “I am with you, I am listening” but is not invasive
Complex – different standards for good eye contact
Body posture
Be comfortable, be relaxed, lean forward slightly
Be aware of personal space
Avoid distracting gestures
Verbal following (Following the person’s lead)
Don’t interrupt, don’t change the subject
Listen, don’t talk too much
Don’t share experiences (“Oh, I’ve been there…”)
Beginning a conversation
“What would you like to talk about?”
“What is going on with you?”
Clarifying and elaborating
“How is this a problem for you?”
“What do you mean by ______?”
“What is it about the situation that bothers you?”
What happened when you asked closed questions vs. open questions?
What were the differences in the quality of your conversation when using the two types of questions?
In counseling sessions, which type of questions would be most appropriate, when and why?

Turn the following closed questions into open ended ones.
Do you notice a difference?
Do you have any friends in this town?
Do you know how to make a nutritional meal?
Do you get along with your mother?
Verbal and nonverbal ways to encourage the client to continue to talk
Some types of questions can be counter-therapeutic:
Suggestive questions (giving advice disguised as a question – “Do you think you may want to…?”)
Judgmental questions (e.g., “Why did you do that?”)
Attacking questions (e.g., “So what is your point here?”)
Tangential questions
Keep counseling aimless and superficial
Identify the pitfalls in the following questions, then rephrase each question to turn it into a more useful question.
You don't think that was the best approach, do you?
Where are you going with this story?
Did you figure out that this was a poor way to do this?
Why did you do that?
You didn’t divorce him, did you?
Do you like your father?
You are taking drugs?
Couldn’t you have said that differently?
15 y/o high school student says,
“My grades have really slipped. I don’t know why; I just feel so down.”

Possible clarifying responses:
“Are you saying there is something specific you feel down about?”
“Could you describe what this feeling of being down is like for you?”

A 47-year-old mother says,
“I am tired of taking care of my son. He requires so much of my attention and care.”
A 34-year-old single father says,
“I feel stuck. I am no longer sure where my life is going.”
Steps in Paraphrasing
A counselor’s summary is a combination of multiple paraphrases and can also include a reflection of feeling

A good summary organizes what has been said into a logical form

Helps people see what they’ve gone and where they are going
Basic Skill:

I just got released from the hospital. They told me I was required to see you for therapy in order to continue the prescriptions for my medication. It really makes me mad and I think I’m just going to quit taking the medication they prescribed. I don’t think it is helping anyway.

I was really hoping to start a new business next year. I have been investing in the market for five years to have the money to do this. My investments in the market are almost worthless now. I don’t know what to do and I don’t seem to have much motivation anymore.
Appropriate beginning or stem
It sounds like…
You think…
I hear you saying…
Let me see if I’ve got it right
Clients may need to repeat their stories repetitively:
Some clients may need to hear several paraphrases before they have feel heard or understood

Cultural Dimensions:

Male counselors may have a preference for questions over paraphrasing, but paraphrasing may be more helpful to clients
Other Considerations
for Paraphrasing
To give accurate empathy :
An accurate paraphrase demonstrates that you are listening and that you have a sense of the client’s point-of-view
A good paraphrase says, “I am with you.”
Purposes of Paraphrasing
The counselor rephrases the content of the client’s message

Involves selective attention to the cognitive part of the message & translation into the counselor’s own words

When done appropriately, leads to further discussion or increased understanding
Basic Skill: Paraphrasing
Existential level: the over-arching hidden patterns through which clients experience thoughts and emotions
Components of Client Communication

My daughter is really testing my limits. Every time she spends the weekend with her father, she comes back very rebellious and smart-mouthed. She is really getting hard to deal with and I’m afraid of what might happen.
A good paraphrase:
Captures the essence of what the person said
Leaves out the details (is briefer than what the person said)
Conveys the same meaning but uses different words
is clear and concise
Is offered
To Put it Another Way


repeating back to the client verbatim – good for provoking additional speech or verification of understanding, but by itself can be irritating and damaging to working alliance

Client messages have 3 components:
Cognitive level (content): client’s understanding of facts and his/her thoughts
Affective level: client’s feelings – how the client feels about the content & expression of feelings or an emotional tone
Keyword Encourager
To check your perceptions:
When you paraphrase what you think clients have said, they can react to your paraphrase and tell you whether it is accurate or not
To facilitate clarification:
Processing and reacting to a paraphrase helps clients clarify what they are thinking and feeling
Be mindful of selective attention
Don’t be a brick wall
Full transcript