Challenging in counseling (5 essential skills)

In this article, we will be discussing the topic: challenging in counseling. Challenging, which is another skill required in the field of counseling, needs an in-depth understanding and skill polishing, to be mastered. We will be looking at the meaning, the relevance, the skills that are essential in the process of challenging, the steps involved, and the connection between challenge and support. 

We will also be answering relevant questions related to the concept of challenging skills and counseling. 

Challenging in counseling

Challenging, challenge, or confrontation is one of the advanced skills employed in the process of counseling, to help the client gain awareness of incongruencies existing between their thoughts and feeling, actions and words, or body language and tone of voice. 

Challenging is used by a counselor in counseling sessions when there is an urgent need for clarity of the situation at hand and to move forward to the next sessions sans any misconceptions or unwarranted assumptions. It also helps the client in observing patterns of mismatches that act as obstacles that inhibit their ability to unlearning and deconditioning. 

The challenging technique must be used with great caution and understanding. The counselor must ensure that they have developed a trustworthy, stable, and comfortable relationship with their clients before getting into the process of challenging them. The client shouldn’t feel intimidated or taken aback by the therapist’s words or tone of approach. 

The aim of the therapist must be to gently challenge the client on a mental level to reflect on their words and actions and to evaluate them for their authenticity and relevance to their ongoing growth process. The process must help the client to deal effectively with the inner conflicts that hold them back from moving forward in the process. 

When to challenge?

The skill of challenging is a tricky one and hence needs to be put to use in the right kind of place with the apt amount of intensity. Challenges can be put forward by counselors to address and alleviate the patterns and behaviors of clients that are undesirable to the process of counseling.

some of these areas given below:

To clear conflicts

During the counseling sessions, a client may come up with conflicting and contrasting feelings, wishes, and thoughts. These emotions and thoughts might be creating a persistent disturbance to the client, on an unconscious level. Although, the client is rarely aware of these effects, in most situations. 

In such circumstances, the counselor, using the opportunity wisely, could gently challenge or confront the client about their conflicting thoughts and emotions. They can make the client aware of these conflicts that reside in their mental space. 

The counselor must use the client’s own words and narrative. While confronting, to bring these elements of conflicts into the realm of conscious awareness. The client may or may not choose to listen, reflect, explore, and potentially resolve the conflicts. 

To enhance the therapeutic relationship

The counselor can use confrontation or challenging in counseling when they notice behaviors of clients that are unhealthy, undesirable, and even threatening at times, for the therapeutic relationship between the client and the counselor.

The intention is to respectfully make the client aware of their behaviors and actions that might cause harm to themselves and the counseling relationship, in the future. When these are brought to the notice of the client, both together can analyze, explore, and gain an understanding of the reasons for the occurrence of these behaviors and resolve underlying issues. 

To address ethical concerns

During counseling, if the client says something that raises ethical concerns for the counselor, he/she can use gentle challenging to address the matter with the client and gain clarity. This must be carried out with utmost care and in alignment with the therapeutic contract, organizational procedures and policies, and the law. 

The counselor can use challenges in the following situations:

  • When a client is persistently late without proper explanation
  • When a client indulges in the consumption of harmful substances such as nicotine or alcohol, excessively. 
  • When a client expresses disinterest to actively engage in the process of counseling
  • When a client poses threat to themselves or others around them
  • When a client exhibits incongruencies and conflicts in their actions and words
  • When a client needs advanced support or different forms of psychotherapy/counseling

Skills required for challenging in counseling

The counselor should make use of the appropriate skills to challenge or confront the client in a given situation. The potential skills are as given below:


Immediacy is a counseling skill which enhances the therapeutic relationship, to bring the counseling session into the here-and-now, to address undesirable and maladaptive behaviors and coping mechanisms, and for increasing client awareness. 

Process comments are one kind of tool that can be used by the counselor to hint the client to not lose focus on the interpersonal process in the session, instead of focusing on the content of the session.  


Self-disclosure arises from a counselor when the situation demands. It is a micro-skill which requires the counselor to be highly aware of themselves. Due consideration must be given to the way of self-disclosing to the client, to avoid the dangers of inappropriate self-disclosure. 

Self-disclosure is used by the counselor to communicate about the counselor’s thoughts and feelings about the client through properly organized feedback. It can be done with the aid of other counseling skills such as immediacy. 


Psychoeducation is a powerful and extremely important tool in the counseling process. It involves the counselor educating the client about the ways and workings of counseling and how the sessions shall proceed. They are given adequate information on the various counseling approaches and techniques, to help the client understand the foundation and structure of counseling and to help them realize which technique might work best for them. 

It also helps in increasing curiosity and level of engagement from the client’s side which is crucial for the success of the entire counseling process. 


Reframing is another kind of micro-skill that counselors use to help clients see situations and circumstances from different perspectives. Counselors mainly use reframing to encourage clients to see a particular matter from a different perspective, often in a more positive way. 

The aim of reframing is to coney to the client that they are doing their best and gradually growing out of their insecurities, despite the difficult circumstances they might be facing at the given moment. 


Metaphors are used when there is an intention to convey messages or information with underlying complexities and those that are relatively difficult to grasp or understand. Counselors must observe the metaphors used by the clients and must be able to understand and empathize with them. Counselors can also use metaphors to gently challenge the clients to think about a situation or a problem in a different way altogether. 

Challenge and support

Challenge and support go hand in hand. One cannot be administered without the other. There must be a balance between the level of support and confrontation presented to the client. If the level of challenge is high, with low support, it can scare away the client and there are high chances for the client turning hostile. 

On the contrary, a high-level f support paired with minimal confrontation can make the client way too comfortable and laid back. This will lead to the stagnation of the counseling process and the client will not be able to achieve growth in the desired direction. 

Hence, a sufficient level of support with a good amount of confrontation works the best to give the needed results. It will help the client to gain sight of things, grow, and develop in the desired way. 

BetterHelp: A Better Alternative

Those who are seeking therapy online may also be interested in BetterHelp. BetterHelp offers plenty of formats of therapy, ranging from live chats, live audio sessions and live video sessions. In addition, unlimited messaging through texting, audio messages and even video messages are available here.

BetterHelp also offers couples therapy and therapy for teenagers in its platform. Furthermore, group sessions can also be found in this platform, covering more than twenty different topics related to mental health and mental illness. The pricing of BetterHelp is also pretty cost-effective, especially considering the fact that the platform offers financial aid to most users.


In this article, we discussed the topic: challenging in counseling. We explored the meaning, nature, and relevance of challenges and confrontation along with a brief discussion on the way of challenging, skills required for challenging, and the relationship between support and challenging in counseling. 

FAQs: challenging in counseling

What is the most challenging for a counselor?

The five biggest challenges faced by a counselor are as follows:

Clients who are disinterested and not willing to open up about their issues honestly
Keeping away from conveying personal opinion, judgments, suggestions, and experiences
The setting up of clear cut boundaries in the therapeutic relationship
Employing various counseling techniques that suit best the client along with the task of convincing and making the client understand the relevance of that particular technique. 
Dealing with a disorganized, haphazard, and disjointed system. 

What are the barriers to counseling?

Several barriers and obstacles can arise in the process of counseling. These barriers could be from the client’s or the counselor’s side. Some of the most common types of barriers are as follows:

Physical barriers such as place of counseling, the environment, the body language, and such.
Differences in the culture, background, core beliefs, and values of the client and the counselor.
Psychological and mental barriers.
Unwarranted, inappropriate, uncalled behavior from the counselor or the client.
Language barriers. 
Level of comprehension barriers

Our counselors in demand?

Paid counselors are in immense demand and the number of qualified and professional counselors is increasing exponentially. Counseling is now readily available in the workplace, schools, educational institutions, rehabilitation centers, eating disorder clinics, and general practice as well. They are required in almost all areas of life that include education, relationships, personal development, career, social life, and much more. They help people who find it difficult to deal with distress on their own and need a guiding hand. 

What are the conditions that determine an effective counseling process?

There are six conditions that determine and are necessary for an effective and successful counseling process. They are as follows:

Psychological contract between the client and the counselor
A client who expresses anxieties, vulnerabilities, and inner conflicts.
A congruent, empathetic, understanding, non-judgmental, and composed counselor.
Unconditional positive regard and encouragement from the counselor
A client who receives and acknowledges empathy and unconditional positive regard from the counselor. 
Intentional and meaningful growth and development of the client. 

What are the qualities of a good counselor?

A counselor must be able to identify, acknowledge, and non-judgmentally analyze the emotional state and concerning issues of the client. He must be well-read, educated, and honest about the processes involved in counseling and the ways to go about it. Some of the main qualities are as given below:

Organized, meticulous, and sincere practice of counseling.
Consistent practice and employment of ethical concerns and professional agendas.
Constantly learning and educating oneself about the novel developments, practices, and other relevant information regarding counseling.
A good level of confidence, and the ability to own up responsibilities for one’s actions and words. 
Being respectful and non-judgmental with the client and enabling smooth lines of communication with the client. 


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