What Are Basic Counselling Skills? (9 In-depth Guides)

This blog post will explore basic counselling skills. We will go into the details of important skills and frequently asked questions.

A list of basic counselling skills (+ a handout)

Below is a list of a few basic counselling skills:

  • Listening
  • Building rapport
  • Empathy
  • Attending
  • Probing/Questioning
  • Reflection and Paraphrasing
  • Unconditional positive regard
  • Summarising
  • Immediacy

What is counselling?

Counselling is a therapeutic process between psychologists and clients seeking help in regards to mental health. Psychologists assist clients in identifying goals and alternative solutions to emotional difficulties, improving communication and coping skills, boosting self-esteem, and promoting behaviour change and ideal mental health.

Basic Counselling Skills (In-depth)

Counselling skills are employed to understand and provide more effective help to clients.

Let’s get into the skills.


The listener speaks very little when this skill is used. There are verbal and non verbal components to listening. It is not just about hearing with your ears and also observing, understanding and listening as a whole.

The key components of listening are:

Verbal listening: It is the audible demonstration that you are listening to the concerns or problems of your client. Using verbal cues or affirmations like, “I understand”, “Go on”, or repeating important points that your client said is a great way to make the client comfortable and show that you are listening to them.

Active listening: Active listening is when you focus completely on what the client is speaking, understand their message, comprehend information and cues. Active listening occurs when one listens to beyond the word of the client. It may involve noticing the tone of the voice, what words are used to express the client’s emotions, are they a lot of hesitations whilst talking, etc.

Non-verbal listening:

The SOLER method is employed in non-verbal listening.

  • Squarely facing the client
  • Open posture without crossing one’s arms or legs
  • Leaning slightly forward towards the client to express interest and active listening
  • Eye contact with the client helps the client to understand that the psychologist is actively listening
  • Relax.

Building rapport

Creating a connection and developing a trusting relationship with a client is one of the most important and valuable skills in the counselling journey.  When a client feels comfortable and safe within the counselling or psychotherapy session space, it may make it easier for them to open up to their counsellor.

We must create rapport with a client in order to operate effectively with them. Whatever form of counselling the therapist is using, rapport is crucial. 

Rapport is defined as a feeling of being connected to another person. How the counsellor controls their own feelings toward the client, as well as how they conduct with the client, will help and foster rapport.

Clients are unlikely to be able to work productively with a counsellor unless they establish a sense of rapport.


Being able to understand the client’s problem from their perspective is an essential skill. Empathy helps build trust with a client because they do not feel judged. One can show empathy by being open-minded, imaginative, committed, knowing and accepting of yourself.


It means being in the company of someone else and giving that person your full attention, to what they are saying or doing, valuing them as worthy individuals. orienting oneself physically to the patient to indicate one is aware of the patient, and, in fact, that the client has your full, undivided attention and that you care. 

Methods include eye contact; nods; not moving around, being distracted, eye contact, encouraging verbalizations; mirroring body postures and language; leaning forward, etc. Researchers estimate that about 80 percent of communication takes place non-verbally.

A counsellor indicates they value what the client has to say by maintaining eye contact with them. During their time with the client, a counsellor should be aware of the tone of their voice. The client will feel more relaxed and less rushed if you speak slowly. It will communicate that the counsellor has enough time to listen to the client’s issues and worries.


To understand your client, you need to ask relevant questions. A counsellor should utilise both open-ended and closed-ended questions to interpret what a client is saying. Usually, open-ended questions can help you gather complex and detailed information, whereas closed-ended questions help you get specific answers. Open ended questions will help your client to clarify or explore thoughts, and feelings. When asking open ended questions, you don’t want to request a specific bit of information or limit the question to a brief answer, or yes or no.

Some examples of open ended questions are:

  • What was your experience during high school?
  • How does that make you feel?
  • What makes you feel frightened?

Examples of close ended questions are:

  • Do you have a healthy sleep pattern?
  • What have you studied?
  • Were you bullied in school?

Reflection and Paraphrasing

Reflecting in counselling is part of the ‘art of listening’. It is making sure that the client knows their story is being listened to. Importance of reflection – Relationship building, clarification, information gathering and verification.

There are four different reflecting skills which can be used at any point during a counselling session. They are reflecting feelings, restating/reframing, affirmation and summarising.

During paraphrasing, you want to focus on the keywords and main ideas that the client has communicated and communicate them back to your patient in a rephrased, and shortened form. This not only communicates to your client that you heard what they are saying, but also that you are trying to really understand them more deeply.

Unconditional positive regard

An expression of acceptance conveying non-judgmental or noncritical verbal & nonverbal reactions. Psychologists may disagree, or see flaws in their reasoning, but your job is not to argue them to your side, but to gently encourage them to see things through the scope of reality. Affirming the patient in their hurt, happiness, or confusion is a good way to convey to your patient that it is okay to be experiencing these emotions.


They condense or crystallise the essence of what the client is saying and feeling. The summary ‘sums up’ the main themes that are emerging. Essentially, summarising can be interpreted as extended paraphrasing.

Summarising could be used to:

  • Compile important points
  • Reviewing the previous session
  • To show the client that the psychologist is actively listening
  • When the counsellor is stuck during a session
  • Termination of session or therapy


According to Feltham and Dryden (1993), “Immediacy is ‘the key skill of focusing attention on the here and now relationship of counsellor and client with helpful timing, in order to challenge defensiveness and/or heighten awareness.”

Immediacy is a counselling skill that is associated with interpersonal process therapy (IPT). Immediacy is useful for strengthening the therapeutic relationship, bringing the counselling session into the here-and-now, increasing client awareness, and addressing maladaptive relationship patterns that are occurring between the counsellor and client (Teyber, 2006).

Following are some guidelines for the therapists / counsellors for using immediacy:

  • Be direct and honest about your response
  • Choose your words carefully so that the client does not feel threatened or attacked
  • Be sensitive towards the client’s feeling
  • Know why you are using the immediacy. Be clear about the purpose behind using immediacy
  • Be prepared for crisis intervention in case the immediacy backflows and has a negative impact.


Counselling is about empowering clients to help themselves in a safe space. The skills that are outlined above are used in every counselling session. Counselling skills are interpersonal and technical characteristics that a therapist use in order to better understand and listen to their clients. These abilities aid in the development of rapport, the establishment of trust, and the assurance that your clients are heard and understood.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Basic Counselling Skills

Who uses counselling skills?

These skills are practised by any number of people in any number of work roles, not just in counselling. They could be nurses, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, school counsellors, guidance counsellors, etc.

What are the goals of counselling?

  • Facilitating behaviour change.
  • Improving the client’s ability to establish and maintain relationships.
  • Enhancing the client’s effectiveness and ability to cope.
  • Promoting the decision-making process and facilitating client potential.
  • Development.

What are the core values of counselling?

The core values of counselling are:

  • Compassion.
  • Collaboration.
  • Expertise.
  • Respect for Autonomy.
  • Sensitivity to Difference.
  • Confidentiality.


Basic Counselling Skills: A Guide for Health Workers in Maternal Care. (2010). Retrieved from www.mhinnovation.net/sites/default/files/downloads/innovation/tools/PMHP-Basic-Counselling-Skills.pdf

https://Basic Counselling Skills explained [PDF Download] • Counselling Tutor. (2021). Retrieved from https://counsellingtutor.com/basic-counselling-skills/

Geldard, D., Foo, R., & Geldard, D. (2021). Basic Personal Counselling. Cengage.

McLeod, J. (2011). Counselling Skills: A Practical Guide For Counsellors And Helping Professionals: A practical guide for counsellors and helping professionals (2nd ed.). Open University Press.

Smaby, M. and Maddux, C. (2011). Basic and advanced counseling skills. Belmont, CA:Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning.

Teyber, E. (2006). Interpersonal process in therapy: An integrative model. Belmont, CA:Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning.

What are the Basic Skills of a Counselor? | Overview [Video]. (2021). Retrieved from https://www.mometrix.com/academy/basic-skills-of-a-counselor/

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