Counselors must possess in-depth knowledge and skills if they are to help clients effectively. On the job, these professionals use a specific set of counseling skills to treat one or more unique populations. These counseling techniques may vary depending on which group of people a counselor serves (e.g., Counseling techniques appropriate for school counselors may not work for grief counselors.). In a master’s program, counselors-in-training hone skills through practica and supervised work experience.
How Do Different Mental Health Professions’ Skills Stack Up?
All mental health professionals possess similar skills. In graduate-level counseling programs, all counselors-in-training first master a standard skill set. Only after specializing in a particular counseling subfield (e.g., addiction counseling, school counseling, etc.) do they begin to explore new skills that can help their future clients.
Counselor vs Therapist Skills
On the job, counselors and therapists share many similar duties. Also, professionals in both careers typically possess master’s degrees. However, therapists (e.g., marriage and family therapists) have a more honed skill set when it comes to interpreting clinical research. Also, unlike counselors, therapists play a more significant role in helping clients develop solutions to problems.
Counselor vs Psychologist Skills
Although some psychologists possess a master’s degree, many earn a doctorate, especially if they plan to teach psychology at the college level. On the job, they review the latest research to find new ways to treat clients, a task few counselors undertake. Psychologists also possess honed research and analytical skills, a boon if they plan to contribute original research to the psychology field.
Counselor vs Psychiatrist Skills
Psychiatrists possess the most advanced skill set of all mental health professionals. They first earn a medical degree before completing a residency in psychiatry. In addition to applying the interpersonal skills that psychologists and counselors possess, they use their pharmacological knowledge to prescribe medication when necessary.
Counselor vs Social Worker Skills
Although social workers and counselors help clients in similar ways, social workers must have the collaborative and interpersonal skills necessary to research and provide community resources. For example, a school social worker who believes that a child lives in an unsafe environment must coordinate with law enforcement and child protective services, among other relevant government agencies.
5 Skills Every Counselor Should Possess
Communication Skills: An excellent counselor can convey information in a concise way that ensures that a client understands the counselor’s concerns, advice, etc. This way, a client can leave a session without feeling confused and assured that the counselor answered all of his or her questions.
Listening and Attending: Counselors need more than excellent listening and comprehension skills. During a session with a client, counselors must also project that they have a vested and genuine interest in the client’s well being. They do this by making eye contact and using appropriate body language – counseling skills and techniques that also apply to the psychiatry and therapy fields.
Focusing and Paraphrasing: When a client first meets with a counselor, he or she may not know their problems’ root cause(s). The counselor must identify the client’s issues and help the client decide which are causing the most harm. This way, the counselor and client can focus on those issues and develop solutions.
Validating and Challenging: As counselors provide mental health services, they must make clients feel validated – that it is normal to feel upset, nervous, angry, etc. However, counselors must also challenge clients to adopt actions or mindsets that go against these feelings, ones that clients may not want to give up. Effective challenging requires excellent interpersonal and diplomatic skills.
Multicultural Competencies: Counselors, especially guidance and school counselors, must possess multicultural competencies. In other words, a counselor should understand how a client’s racial, cultural, and socioeconomic background affects them. Counselors can use this knowledge to better empathize with clients, gain their trust, and develop effective solutions.
Mental Health Counseling Techniques
To make counseling effective, counselors must not only master counseling skills and techniques but also understand the different theories that guide mental health professionals. Comprehensive online master’s in mental health counseling programs typically emphasize the following four theories – their history, impact, and continued relevance.
1. Behavioral Theory
Behavioral theory explains people’s behavior by examining life experiences. Psychologist B.F. Skinner was an advocate for behavioral theory, as he showed through animal testing that conditioning could affect behavior significantly. In a modern context, a behaviorist might argue that someone possesses violent tendencies because that person suffered physical abuse as a child.
2. Cognitive Theory
Instead of focusing on actions, cognitive theory examines how people’s thoughts influence their behavior. In a clinical setting, psychologists and psychiatrists use talk therapy to help clients identify and remedy negative thoughts. For example, a client who can verbalize his or her flying anxiety can begin to develop new, positive thought patterns that reduce stress.
3. Humanistic Theory
After the Second World War, many mental health professionals turned away from traditional behavioral and cognitive theories. Humanistic theory assumes that people are good and desire agency over their own lives. Counselors who use humanistic theory focus on clients’ subjective feelings and use those feelings as a way to treat underlying problems.
4. Integrative Theory
As the name suggests, integrative theory synthesizes behavioral, cognitive, and humanistic theories, among others. Professionals who use integrative theory analyze clients’ mental health needs from different viewpoints and also consider how age and life experience can guide treatment. Finally, integrative theory focuses less on finding a mental health ‘cure.’ Rather, professionals help clients improve as much as they can.
School Counseling Techniques
School counselors possess a variety of techniques/skills that allow them to help students, collaborate with faculty, and implement new district- and school-level policies. In online master’s in school counseling programs, students begin developing these skills before honing them in school settings (e.g, a practicum). However, many professionals do not master these skills until after they have acquired significant on-the-job experience.
1. Problem-Solving and Conflict Resolution
Without much life experience to pull from, primary and secondary school students lack developed problem-solving and conflict resolution skills (e.g., dealing with a bully, student-teacher conflict, etc.). As a result, counselors must help students identify and remedy problem behavior. When more than one student is involved, counselors use small-group counseling techniques.
2. Group Counseling Theories
Group counseling has many advantages in the school setting. One, it brings together students who may share a similar problem or were part of a conflict. Group counseling can also promote empathy among students. Finally, group counseling allows a counselor to help many students at once, freeing up more time for other responsibilities and tasks.
3. Special Needs Counseling
Students with special needs (e.g., ADD, ADHD, Autism-spectrum disorder, etc.) require highly trained counselors who can promote their academic success while working within the context of the disability. Counselors-in-training must examine the latest research and work with students with disabilities. On the job, counselors collaborate with parents, administrators, and faculty to ensure that students with disabilities receive the best education possible.
Impact of Effective Counseling Techniques
Effective counseling can make a significant, positive impact on clients’ lives. Some positive outcomes might include:
Better decision making
Improved outlook on life
Ability to plan for the future (e.g., college and career preparedness)
Improve socialization with peers, teachers, and family