Counselors today are working with increasingly diverse populations that have diverse sets of needs. Honing a solid set of essential skills makes for an effective, successful mental health practitioner.
1. Genuine Interest in Others
This one isn’t technically a skill—but it is an essential component of a counseling career.
When you wake up in the morning, do you have the drive and energy to sit with people through their best and worst? Can you be fully present for your clients’ stories, however difficult or long? Will you still be ten years down the road?
A sustained commitment to facilitating positive transformation and human-to-human connection is key to a successful and fulfilling career in mental health.
An effective therapist knows that it’s just as important to look within themselves as it is to carefully observe others.
The idea of “Self as Instrument” is central to a successful education and career in mental health. A counseling student is taught to feel well, think well, and act well. By feeling well, a therapist can relate well and empathize with clients.
Thinking well means to think critically, to conceptualize the client in theoretical terms, and to demonstrate good academic skills. To act well means to conduct oneself in the service of the client, community, and the professional field.
Through the use of Self as Instrument, counselors are able to better relate to clients and facilitate positive change.
3. Ability to Listen – On Multiple Levels
This one may seem like a no-brainer, but effective listening as a counselor is a nuanced skill.
A counselor needs not only to listen to what is being said, but how it’s said, why it’s being said, and what it means in the context of that particular client. Think content, delivery, and context.
A counselor also needs to be able to listen “between the lines,” so to speak, for those things that aren’t being said. What a client omits from a session can speak just as clearly as what is communicated out loud.
Perhaps most importantly, a counselor should know how to listen without judgment or evaluation. Clients are going to come to you with difficult and complicated issues, and they’ll need to feel as though they have the space to say everything they feel they need to, without fear of shame or feeling as though their counselor has jumped to a conclusion.
As a counselor, cultivating a non-reactive stance and learning the difference between observation and evaluation will help in making accurate assessments, and developing a relational connection with the client.