A career as a counsellor is an extremely rewarding one, but, as with any other job, there are essential skills and attributes that you will need in order to succeed and to make the most out of your time and your clients.
Be an excellent listener
Although this may seem obvious, being able to really listen to someone is essential to being a successful counsellor. If you’re not fully engaged with your client then you won’t be able to understand their situation and provide them with the correct support. To be a great listener you have to be patient: you need to be able to give your client the time to express their emotions and feelings in order to create a productive counsellor-client relationship. Being an excellent listener also allows you to record what has been discussed in each session so that you can track your client’s progress and plan the next steps to maximise the help that you can provide.
Keep a positive mindset
Whilst working on other people’s mental health, you may forget to look after your own. Working as a counsellor can be emotionally exhausting as you often hear about traumatic events in people’s lives and take in upsetting information, which is why safeguarding your own mental health is essential. You need to have a certain level of resilience and the ability to maintain a positive frame of mind so that you’re at your most productive in order to effectively help others. A way of looking after your own mental health is by allocating time throughout the day for self-reflection. This is the process of taking time out to process and explore anything that may have upset or affected you, allowing you to put the correct measures in place in order to deal with them, such as having your own counsellor or following mindfulness techniques.
Have a genuine interest in helping people
If you have a true interest in understanding other people and a desire to help them through their difficulties then a counselling role is one that will come naturally to you. If your heart is not in it and you don’t feel compassion or sympathy for the people in front of you then you won’t do a good job, and you may even be detrimental to your clients rather than a force of good. To be a counsellor you want to make a difference on both a personal and a wider scale. You will be able to recognise that by making individuals happier, you’ll be helping to make the people around them happy too, leading to a healthier society in time.
Be confident and sensitive
A counsellor should be confident. You won’t be able to convince other people or reassure them if you’re uncertain of your own abilities. But, it is important to not be overconfident otherwise there is the danger of appearing intimidating and unapproachable to clients. Therefore, being a counsellor is all about sensitivity: being sensitive to other people’s emotions and also to how you’re putting yourself across. This is also vital to the creation of a strong counsellor-client relationship as it allows you to judge which methods of communication are most suited to each client. For example, although a sense of humour may not spring to mind when thinking about a counsellor’s attributes, there may be some instances when this is appropriate in helping a client to feel at ease etc.
The key to a successful counselling session is a judgement-free environment and a client that feels that they are respected. This is where confidentiality comes in. It is foundational to the trust between the client and counsellor, and for safeguarding potentially vulnerable people. The knowledge that their information is private often reassures clients and allows them to open up about things that they may have previously been unable to talk about. This privacy also allows clients to feel valued and secure in the help that they are receiving.
You should keep yourself up to date with current mental health practices in order to offer the most effective and suitable support possible. Strong knowledge of the range of treatments available enables you to have a greater understanding of the range of treatments and therapies available for specific disorders – such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for those who suffer from anxiety – in order to create an appropriate plan to meet the needs of each individual client. You should also keep yourself in the know about other mental health services within the local area that clients could be referred to if they require additional support, in order to provide the best client care possible.