How to Use Summarizing in Counseling? (9+ Important Benefits)

In this brief guide, we will be discussing the topic: summarising in counseling. We will be exploring the meaning of summarising, its difference from paraphrasing, the steps involved in summarising, the need, and the way to summarise the beginning and end of a session. By the end, we will also be answering some questions related to summarising and counseling skills. 

Summarising in counseling

Summarising is one of the skills in counseling used by the therapist to accommodate the feelings, emotions, and thoughts of the client in a nutshell. In other words, summarising is used when the therapist wants to condense, crystallize, the main points that the client conveyed through his words and body language. 

Summarising is almost like a recap of a lesson that is already taught. The therapist provides the client with a chance to reflect on their last session and the lessons they might want to take away front their previous sessions, before continuing with the following sessions. Summarising is carried out at the beginning and the end of a session, mostly. 

If one is to give an accurate definition for summarising, then it would be best to choose the one by Feltham and Dryden. According to Feltham and Dryden, “summarising is accurately and succinctly reflecting back to the client, from time to time, within and across sessions, the substance of what she has expressed. 

The importance of summarising

th e summarising skill used by the therapist in a counseling session helps both the therapist and client to move forward sans confusions and misunderstandings. It reveals the current standing position of the process of therapy and allows the client to explore the varied dimensions of their progress to the given point. 

In summarising, the therapist aims to “reflect” to the client, the important and desirable points of a session. It makes the client feel understood and encourages them to open up and talk about their issues comprehensively and with clarity to the therapist in the further sessions. Summaries of any kind are useful for anyone, to gain clarity and insight into the subject matter of concern. 

In counseling, summarising aids in the following ways:

  • Accurate and efficient clarification of the emotions for both the counselor and the client. This helps both the parties to understand the underlying emotional state involved in each session and its influence on the progress of the session.
  • A complete review of the work done so far, especially by the client himself/herself. The client is the core element of the process of counseling, who has to take a major effort in facing their issues at hand and coming to terms with them. Hence, summarising comes as a great aid for the clients for the required progress in each session.
  • Summarising help in bringing each session to a closure, without leaving loose ends or unnecessary assumptions. It helps in drawing together the main threads of the discussions between the client and the therapist. 
  • Summarising also helps in initiating a subsequent session, if the situation and timing are appropriate. 
  • Usually, clients arrive in counseling with a series of scattered and vague thoughts and emotions. However, as the sessions proceed, the process of summarising helps the client in bringing about order and understanding of their vague emotions and thoughts which they could not comprehend in the beginning. It helps them to prioritize these thoughts and emotions and make their way through them, slowly.  
  • Most importantly, summarising is the skill that enables the counseling process to move forward. It provides a wholesome meaning to the counseling relationship and the nature of each session. 
  • It enables the client to open up to new perspectives. When the therapist summarises each session, it’s put forward in a slightly different manner, to allow the client to reflect on their words and emotions expressed in the session. 
  • Summarising helps the therapists to provide a specific structure to the counseling process that is especially important for those clients who find it difficult to keep their focus on one topic or area of issue. 
  • Summarising gives a good orientation towards the type of homework that needs to be given to the client and also an idea about the future sessions and what they will comprise. 

How to summarize

The following steps can be followed to summarize a session:

  • Try to summarize at the end of a session
  • Confirm the authenticity of the summary with the client and once that is done, decide the focus of the next session, and assign homework for the client for the next session
  • Ask the client to give their version of the summary for the session to make them feel more involved and eager in the process of summarising.
  • Jot down the points added by the client during the process of summarising. 

Summarising vs paraphrasing

Summarising and paraphrasing are not the same. They differ in their structure, purpose, and timing. A summary is provided for the client to reflect on their words and emotions and to let them take the lead. However, paraphrasing on the other hand is done to clarify and move forward in the session without any kind of assumptions, confusion, or misunderstandings.

A summary usually covers a longer time period than a paraphrase. Summarising is usually used at the end of a session, before winding up the session. paraphrasing, on the other hand, is usually used during the session to move the session forward smoothly. 

The end of a session

Summarising is the key process for winding up the session. It brings the session to a clear close, without any misconceptions. It is an opportunity provided to the client for clearing any confusion and to make sense of the happenings of the session. It also provides the counselor with an assurance for their efforts taken and to continue with the subsequent sessions.

The summary at the end of a session must match the material of the session and must help the client feel understood and at peace. It allows the client to deny something if they feel is not right or give a better modulation to the words used by the therapist in the summary, if the need arises. This leads to a complete realignment of the session and also shapes the future ones. 

Summarising should begin around five to ten minutes before the session comes to a close. The therapist should hint to the client that the allotted time is nearing a close and start with the process of summarising, once the client is ready to begin. Make sure to include the most relevant thoughts, emotions, and opinions expressed by the client and how they perceive them, int the summary. 

The beginning of a session

Summarising can also be used at the beginning of a session. It helps the counselor to gain clarity on the direction of the session and it enables the client to decide on the themes of discussion for the current session. The therapist can put forward a summary comprising the themes of previous sessions and how far have the duo come to manage them. 

Summarising at the beginning also allows the client to feel settled before the actual session starts. It gives them an idea of their current standing and what they could expect from the ongoing session. This enhances the strength and consolidation of the therapeutic relationship between the client and the therapist.

While summarising at the beginning of a session, the counselor/therapist must keep in mind to give the client complete freedom to take the lead for the session and decide the key theme of discussion. They should not feel evaluated or judged while the process of summarising is going on. This form of summarising is mostly used by person-centered counselors and therapists since it does not go against any of their core principles. 

The counselor can also jot down, in a notepad the points brought up by the client at the end of the summary, which can be used for the next session as well. 


In this article, we discussed the topic: summarising in counseling. We looked at the meaning, nature, importance, steps involved, and conduction of the process of summarising during the beginning and end of a session. We also examined the difference between paraphrasing and summarising. 

FAQs: summarising in counseling

Why is summarising an important skill?

Summarising is an important skill in the field of academic writing. It allows you to grasp the most relevant points from a source of the text and rewrite them, using your own words. It lets you create a brief version of the original content and for quick reference. A good summary also indicates your ability to evaluate your understanding of the source and to turn it around the way you want it. 

What are the five counseling skills?

The core counseling skills are as follows:

Attending( refers to completely attending to the client and their issues without getting lost in thoughts or being in dissonance).
Silence(aids in providing control to the content, pace, and objectives of the sessions).
Reflecting and paraphrasing (helps the counselor to keep away misunderstandings with the client and to help the client reflect on their words and feelings expressed during the sessions?
Clarification and the use of questions (helps the counselor in asking open questions to clarify the feelings of the client)
Building good rapport (helps in building a sense of connection with the client)
Focusing (helps the client to decide the key theme to be discussed during a session. It helps to filter out the unnecessary or the less important issues)
Summarising (provides a meaningful and clarified summary of what the says during the sesion)
Immediacy. ( helps to focus on the immediate environment or in other words, the here and now relationship between the client and the therapist)
Active listening (the client feels heard and understood by the therapist)

What are some counseling techniques?

Some of the most popularly used techniques are as follows:

Psychodynamic counseling: this is one of the most well-known approaches to counseling and is based on the Freudian theory of psychodynamics. It focuses on the development of strong therapist-client alliances. 

Interpersonal counseling: interpersonal counseling is mostly diagnosis based and the disorder of the client is considered as a medical condition that requires appropriate intervention. The focus of this technique is on the attachment of the mental health outcomes to the well-being of the client. It is a time-limited counseling approach that helps the clients to identify the environmental stressors that are causing their issues. 

Humanistic counseling: this approach was developed by Carl Rogers and works on the belief that humans have an innate ability and willingness to be self-actualized. It encourages curiosity, humility, intuition, and genuine acceptance. It is also called client-centered therapy, which helps the client realize their full potential.


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