Counselling refers to a formal arrangement involving a skilled practitioner who agrees to meet with a client in a private and confidential setting in order to explore the distress the client is facing. The need for the client to seek the services of a counselor may be linked to a specific event in the past, present or future, or the client may be experiencing situations in life that are generally disturbing to him. It is important that counselling be conducted in a safe, professional and an effective manner.
Towards this end, a set of mutually understood and consistently applied guidelines will be put to use. According to Sutton and Stewart (2002), the processes involved in learning to counsel effectively are: knowledge and understanding which includes the theory of personality and the development of the underlying counselling approach to be used, as well as gaining knowledge on common psychological processes such as bereavement and relationship interactions (p.6). In addition, the counselor also has to change his or her behavior since he may feel uncomfortable at first. Furthermore, this process involves personal development and being able to separate one’s own feeling from those of the client and as such, this is essential.
In a nutshell, the qualities that are necessary for effective counseling include: ability to be genuine with the client; showing non-possessive attitude towards the client; ability to exhibit unconditional positive regard for the client and being in a position to show acceptance to the client and the ability not to judge the client. In addition, the counselor should be in a position to show emphatic appreciation to the client while staying within the client’s frame of reference. Moreover, as Dryden (2006) points out, the counselor should take deliberate steps to become more self-aware (p.24). The attitude of the counselor towards the client is critical since it determines whether the clients will trust and open up to the counselor or not. Should the counselor demonstrate a negative attitude of non-acceptance and disrespect, the probability is high that the counselling process will stall (p.3). One of the strengths that the counselor should demonstrate is the ability to listen and understand the client’s psychological pain from their perspective. It is important to understand that while the goal of counselling is to help clients, much will not be achieved if the counselor does not listen to the client’s point of view. Research has indicated that listening and understanding the client’s point of view involves keeping relatively quiet as the client talks, while concentrating in the making interventions in order to encourage them to realize themselves in a deeper dimension. As well, showing a keen interest in what the clients are saying and demonstrating non- judgmental attitude is prerequisite (p.3).
Having excellent therapeutic skills is essential for the counselor in order for the client to know that the problem stated has been understood. Dryden (2007) argues that to communicate an emphatic understanding to the client is critical and is recognized by all forms of counselling. Making clear therapeutic interpretations out of the client’s explanations is central in gaining the client’s confidence (p.4). This helps the client to establish the relationship between the present and past feelings, thinking and behavior and as such using them to resolve the issue at hand.
Effective counselling, as past experiences show, must occur in a context of rules that govern both the counselor and the client. In reference to Sutton and Stewart (2002) setting clear boundaries of rules is vital in building the therapeutic alliance. The boundaries include agreements over such things as the duration of the counselling session, the length of the counselling sessions, confidentiality, whether phone calls are allowed in the counselling process along with appropriate strategies for managing incidents of self-harm or contemplations of suicide (p.29). Accordingly, the terms on which counselling is offered must be clear and must be communicated and agreed upon verbally or may be in a formal written contract that both parties have to sign. Such an agreement will ensure the professional nature of the relationship, as well as enhancing the respect for the clients’ autonomy (p.29).
The agreement may include rules such as the definition of the venue, indication of the frequency of sessions, determination of the process of counseling and its evaluation. In the same line of thought, there is the rule of establishment of the broad details of the counselling relationship and the details on the counselor’s supervision along with the means to achieve the goals and setting of boundaries, expectations and terms of the therapeutic relationship along with provisions for renegotiation of the contract (p.29). In other words, a contract has the ability to make the client more informed and more supportive in managing the problems that he or she is facing. It helps the client and the counselor to develop mutual expectations, while ensuring that a sense of direction and freedom is created while ensuring that the initial anxiety is diminished (p.31)
In order to ensure that his understanding of the problem is clearly appreciated, the counselor must ensure that he has developed appropriate delivery skills. Preparing a clear content is just one part of describing skills effectively. According to Nelson-Jones (2008) putting the message across is critical since it will determine the clarity of understanding, and for the client to receive the anticipated help (p.158)
. For the counselling session involving the classmate, the first step upon is to further understand the problem of difficult work in depth, with the motive of identifying the underlying courses. In this process, maintaining eye contact and seeking to be understood by the client is central. In reference to Zastrow (2009), counseling entails three phases. As well, it must proceed from one phase to the next with some overlapping stages if the counselling is to be successful. The phases include building a relationship, in-depth examination of the problems and the exploring of alternative solutions (p.162). In-depth examination of the problem can be achieved by asking specific questions that surround the client’s studies, such as her concentration while studying, her preparation for examinations; whether she participates in group discussions, her attitudes towards the various subjects she does and the respective teachers, her relationship with the classmates, the length of time the problem has persisted and whether she has disturbing financial problems and whether she has sought help for the same problem before. Based on the answers to these questions, it is possible to identify the underlying causes and at the same time make accurate interpretations. Through repeating and interpreting the problems already given, this will demonstrate to the client that I understand appreciate her problem.
Once the underlying courses have been identified, the alternatives available in solving the problem are explored. Based on the responses to the questions asked; appropriate solutions can be developed. The solutions that may be applicable to this problem include participating in group discussion, consulting fellow students or the lecturer for clarification in the specific areas that she finds to be difficult; changing her attitude towards the subject and the respective teachers that teach them; concentrating on her work and avoiding disruptions during revisions; seeking financial help if the cause of the problem is attributable to a lack of basic needs and treatment given that the problem is a consequence of a disease.
Zastrow (2009) argues that the biggest factor that will determine whether the counselee’s situation will improve is the motivation to carry out essential tasks. As a result, the counsellor should therefore seek to motivate apathetic counselees. To ensure the effectiveness of motivation, a follow-up should be done on tasks assigned to the client to ensure that they fulfill them thus bringing about change in their situation. Out of the various alternative solutions identified, the counsellor will identify the most appropriate ones for the presented problem, and uses them to counsel the client accordingly. According to Zastrow (2009), the tone of the voice should convey the message that the counsellor empathetically appreciates and has a caring concern for the counselees’ feelings (p.163).
A timetable for effective follow-up will then be developed to ensure that the student makes progress in her studies. The timetable may be longer or shorter depending on the responsiveness of the student to the formulated solutions. If the problem is abated in a short time, the time for follow-up may be shortened; and may also be lengthened if the problem persists. At this point, a foundation for future counselling, if need arises, may be established.
The weaknesses that were reported during this counselling session concern the venue. According to Yeo (1993) mistakes should be avoided in counselling, eve though it may not be easy. He argues that the more one practices counselling, the more competent he will become; and therefore the inexperienced counselor should not despair if he makes mistakes (p.107).
The mistakes that were pointed out during the counselling session are inappropriate environment that makes it unsafe for the counselor, the client or both not to open up and express themselves freely. To avoid this problem, a venue that is agreeable to both parties must be chosen. The session should also begin with the counselor and the counselee introducing each other and having a little talk for the purpose to create a rapport, essential for making the counseling process effective. In addition, a contract should be established to ensure that session is given the attention and seriousness it deserves. The goals should need to be set by both the counselor and the client for the purposes of evaluating progress in the future. Importantly, the goals should be realistic, measurable and achievable in order to be helpful to the client. In addition, the goals set must be related to the desired end results that are being sought.
According to Sutton and Stewart (2002) past counselling experiences have shown that weaknesses such as restricting the client and placing emphasis on such topics as ‘difficulties’, ‘problems’, ‘help’, may not be helpful at all to the client. Furthermore, minimizing counselling with expressions such as ‘chatting’ or ‘having a little talk’ will demean the counselling, thus the purpose of counselling will not be fulfilled (p.28). If such challenges are likely to manifest in a counselling session, the counselor should strive to ensure that they are avoided.
In conclusion, effective counseling requires that the counsellor takes advantage of the strengths that he has, and at the same time avoids personal weaknesses in order to gain the confidence of the counselee. Generally, three phases of counselling have been identified amd as such; they take in building a relationship; in-depth examination of the problem; and exploring alternative solutions. The strengths that the counsellor should show take in the choice of an appropriate venue that will be conducive for the counselling; creating order in the counselling session by use of such methods as a verbal or written contract. In addition, seeking to be understood by the counselee, making him comfortable, use of appropriate tone, use of eye contact, and the ability to recognize the client’s problem are also vital strengths that the counsellor should possess. Finally, the counselor must identify the most appropriate solution to the client’s problem and goes further to give the appropriate counsel. Appropriate mechanisms for further counselling if such a need arise, should also be instituted in the process of counselling.