Personal Qualities of an Effective Counselor

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  • 0:06 Who Should Become a Counselor?
  • 1:49 Personal Qualities
  • 2:58 Specific Skills
  • 7:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

This lesson will introduce the positive and negative motivators for becoming a counselor. We will also look at some of the characteristics of an effective counselor and some essential microskills counselors must possess.

Who Should Become a Counselor?

Start this lesson by asking yourself, why are you interested in learning what makes a good counselor? Chances are you are interested in this topic because you're considering a career that involves some level of counseling skills. People choose careers that involve counseling for a wide variety of reasons. Most of the time, the person wants to help other people. However, other motives may also be present.

Let's think about the following questions:

  • Are your reasons for wanting to become a counselor based on sources of information that have provided you an understanding of what counseling is and the role of the clinician?
  • Are you basing your desire to be a counselor on the appeal of moving toward a potentially rewarding career rather than moving away from a currently unsatisfying career choice?
  • Do you see in yourself personal characteristics that suggest you have the ability to be a skilled clinician?

According to Linda Seligman, if you can answer yes to these three questions about your desire to become a counselor, you are probably on the right track.

In contrast, let's consider the following motivations:

  • You have a need for power or control that can be met by advising others on how to lead more rewarding lives.
  • You believe that becoming a counselor will help you resolve your own difficulties.
  • You have a need to be important to other people that can be fulfilled through becoming a counselor.
  • Your current job does not allow you to interact with others, and you think becoming a counselor will change that.

Why do you think these motivations may not be the correct reasons for entering a counseling field?

Personal Qualities

Certain characteristics are typically shared by effective counselors. A study by Jennings and Skovholt suggests nine qualities of outstanding therapists:

  • They are eager learners.
  • They draw heavily on experience.
  • They handle ambiguity and complexity well.
  • They can recognize and accept emotions.
  • They are emotionally healthy.
  • They are self-aware.
  • They have strong interpersonal skills.
  • They believe in the counseling relationship.
  • They can use their interpersonal skills to develop this counseling relationship.

In fact, research over the past 20 years or so has indicated that success rates for clients in treatment has more to do with the personal skills and characteristics of the counselor than the setting or type of intervention that is used. Likewise, age, gender, and cultural background play a smaller role in effective counseling than open-mindedness, respect, objectivity, and optimism.

Specific Skills

Microskills are the basic foundational tools involved in developing effective counseling relationships and a positive environment for change. Let's look at some specific microskills that are important to possess as a counselor and develop a brief understanding of each. To do this, we will introduce our counselor, Siggy, and his client, Lois.

It is important that Lois sees Siggy as being empathetic to her feelings. Empathy is the ability to understand and to some degree experience what another is feeling. Imagine that Lois is sad. If Siggy doesn't have the ability to relate to her point of view, it is unlikely that they will be able to develop a therapeutic bond. This is because Lois wants someone to understand and validate her feelings.

Siggy also has to show authenticity. If he fakes his understanding of how Lois feels, he is less likely to be able to help her. It is also likely that Lois will realize he is not being genuine with her, and she will not trust him. Let's assume that Siggy genuinely understands how Lois feels and can relate to her point of view. This is a good start toward a positive counseling relationship, but there are still some things that can get in the way.

Siggy must have a tolerance of intimacy in order to fully develop a therapeutic relationship with Lois. Siggy may keep his personal life and professional life separate, but he has to have the ability to care for Lois and allow her to care for him as they work together on her personal issues. If he was unable to allow a close professional relationship to develop, Lois would not be able to open up to him fully.

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