5 Communication and interviewing skills in counseling

Counselors and Psychotherapists use the skills of the interview in the early phases of their work. Without solid interviewing skills, it is difficult to become a Counselor or a Psychotherapist.

This blog revolves around communication and interviewing skills and their importance in counseling. 

The ethical principles to be kept in mind during an interview are:

● Competence

● Confidentiality

● Informed consent

● Autonomy

● Justice

● Beneficence

● Non-maleficence

● Fidelity

Interviewing is the basic process used for gathering data, providing information to clients, and suggesting workable alternatives for resolving concerns.

Professionals in many areas also use these skills—for example, in medicine, business, law, community development, library work, and many government offices. Counseling is a more intensive and personal process.

Although interviewing to gain client information is critical, counseling is more about listening to and understanding a client’s life challenges and, along with the client, developing strategies for change and growth.

Code of Ethics

Ethical codes offer counselors an outline of what is considered acceptable and unacceptable behaviors that are required to be followed while interviewing. 

The concept of ethics relates to moral consideration. The challenge lies in what is considered moral or ethical. 

Each counselor comes to the profession with its own set of values and standards. Individual principles and how they were used to interpret dilemmas would be universally different. 

Therefore, a Code of Ethics is a general standard that counselors and therapists adhere to and use co-jointly with legal standards to provide ethical practice and work through ethical dilemmas.

The ethical principles to be kept in mind during an interview are:

● Competence

● Confidentiality

● Informed consent

● Autonomy

● Justice

● Beneficence

● Non-maleficence

● Fidelity

Skills required for effective communication and interviewing in counseling

The skill of attending, empathy, and observation are necessary for having facilitative and intentional communication and interviewing skills in counseling. 

They establish a working relationship with your clients. These skills lay their roots in understanding the concerns or issues of the client.

Attending behavior 

Attending behavior is a crucial skill necessary for building an empathetic relationship with our clients; it is a skill that involves the usage of the appropriate verbal following, visuals, vocal tone, and body language. 

The first important key for attending behavior is listening;it is a core skill that helps in developing a healthy relationship with your client that helps in making real contact with them. 

It is the skill through which you imply to your client that you understand them with apt empathy.

Attending behavior and the skill of Listening

Attending is a vital skill, the way we attend a session deeply affects what and how things are discussed in the session.  Listening carefully is enough to produce change.

In order to communicate that you are listening and attending, you could do the following which is called 3V’S + B:- 

Visual/Eye contact

It is very important to make eye contact, not only making eye contact it is also important to note when there is a break in eye contact by you or by the client. 

Through these 3v’s and B, the counselors tell the client if the current topic is comfortable for them or not. 

Vocal qualities – tone and speech rate

Your voice is an instrument that communicates much of the feeling you have about yourself or about the client and what the client is talking about. 

Changes in pitch, volume, and speech rate, as well as breaks and hesitations, convey the same things as the nature of your eye contact. 

Therefore, matching your tone with the client’s is necessary. It is also important to note that what works with one person might not work with another and hence it is very important that we modulate and flex as needed.

Verbal Tracking

Verbal tracking is staying with your client’s topic to encourage full elaboration of the narrative. 

Culture plays a role here to some may find verbal tracking rude and intrusive. It is important for a counselor to follow up on the words used and also to note that clients might shift topics when they are not comfortable. 

Verbal tracking is especially helpful to both the beginning counselor and the experienced therapist who is lost or puzzled about what to say next in response to a client. Building on the client’s topic will help you know them better.

Selective Attention

Selective attention is central to communication and interviewing skills in counseling. How the counselor selectively attends determines what the client will speak or focus on. 

It also determines how long the session could last and whether the client will return or not. When a client comes up with a number of topics, we can deal with them in different ways. 

Either by asking them what they would like to focus on first, listing all the concerns they mentioned, and asking them about priorities, or making a contract on how to proceed. 

It is very important to see that no topic or concern gets lost, also not to be in a hurry to solve everything at once. 

The usefulness of silence 

Sometimes, the most useful thing a counselor can do to support the client is, support the silence of the client. As a beginner counselor, it is difficult and uncomfortable to maintain the silence and break it. 

Sometimes, you may find it hard to sit through the silence, but that is the best thing to let the client think through what they have to say. 

At times, the client will be in tears and you would want to support him, but even the small gestures like offering a tissue or water, without the client asking, may make the client feel good. 

Of course, if the silence is too long, there should be a natural and mutual break, with proper attending behavior required for communication and interviewing skills in counseling.

Empathy

‘Putting yourself into another person’s shoes.

We need to listen carefully, enter the world of the client, and communicate that we understand the client’s world in the way the client sees and experiences it. 

Another way to describe empathy is “Putting yourself into another person’s shoes” or “viewing the world through someone else’s eyes and ears”.

Empathy plays a major role in the therapeutic relationship and it is very important as well.

It is easier to predict how clients are likely to respond, as you provide an empathetic response while communicating and using interviewing skills in counseling. 

Experiencing the client’s world and story as if you were that client; understanding his or her key issues and saying them back accurately, without adding your own thoughts, feelings, or meanings to it. 

This requires attending and observation skills plus using the important keywords to the client, but distilling and shortening the main ideas.

Anticipated Outcome

Clients will feel understood and engage in more depth in exploring their issues. Empathy is best assessed by the client’s reaction to a statement and his or her ability to continue the discussion in more depth and eventually with better self – understanding.

Charles Truax (1961) was recognized as the first person to come up with the measuring levels of empathetic understanding. He developed a nine-point scale for rating the level of empathetic understanding.

Later on, (Robert 1969) collaborated with Truax and developed a five-point scale, which is used widely in research and they have practical applications for the session.

Three types of empathetic understanding

Subtractive Empathy

Counselor Responses give back to the client less than what the client stated give, and perhaps even distort what has been said. In this case, listening or influencing skills are used inappropriately.

Basic (interchangeably) Empathy

Counselor Responses are roughly interchangeable with those of the client. The Counsellor is able to say back accurately, what the client has said. 

Skilled intentional competence with the basic listening sequence demonstrates basic empathy.

You will find this the most common counselor comment level in helping. Carl Rogers pointed out that listening, by itself, is not only necessary but also sufficient to produce client change.

Additive Empathy

Counselor responses may add something beyond what the client has said. 

This may be adding a link to something the client has said earlier, or it may be a congruent idea or frame of reference that helps the client see a new perspective.

Feedback and your own self-disclosure used thoughtfully, can be addictive.

By incorporating these skills during the therapeutic process communication and interviewing skills can be enhanced in counseling. 

It is important to keep in mind the various individual and cultural differences that might stem from the process.

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Frequently asked questions

What are interviewing skills in counseling?

Interviewing is the basic process used for gathering data, providing information to clients, and suggesting workable alternatives for resolving concerns.

What are communication skills in counseling?

Communication skills in counseling are used to facilitate clear expression of thought and active listening in a two-way conversation that takes place between the therapist and the client. 

What are the core counseling skills?

The core skills in counseling are- Attending behavior, silence, empathy, clarifying, focussing, and building rapport

What are some interviewing techniques?

Some interviewing techniques are- taking notes, a quiet environment, and being able to analyze and reciprocate.

What are the skills required for communication?

The skills required for communication are- effective non-verbal communication, straightforwardness, active listening, emotion control, and stress management.

References 

Seider, S. (n.d.). Library Services: Counselling: Counselling interpersonal and interview skills. Illawarratafe.libguides.com. https://illawarratafe.libguides.com/counselling/skills

Interviewing and Counseling Skills: Modes of Listening. (2021). In connect.springerpub.com. Springer Publishing Company. https://connect.springerpub.com/content/book/978-0-8261-9916-4/chapter/ch06?implicit-login=true

Mellish, L., Morris, S., & Do, M. (n.d.). Psychology Interviewing Skills Interviewing Skills for Psychology Undergraduate Students. https://groups.psychology.org.au/Assets/Files/InterviewingSkillGuideFinal.pdf

Ivey, A. E., & Mary Bradford Ivey. (2003). Intentional interviewing and counseling : facilitating client development in a multicultural society. Braille Jymico Inc.

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