Everyone has difficult experiences, both at work and at home. By using counseling skills you can enable other people to deal with their concerns, making it easier for them to work through their feelings.
An essential counseling skill is to give time and space for people to handle their experiences. These experiences may usually leave people with a sense of loss – not only bereavement, but other experiences too, like parents' break up, exam failure or broken relationships. By giving time to other people you can help them to change a painful experience into a painful memory.
Everyday counseling is what almost all of us do from time to time for friends and collections. Friendship certainly helps, but acquiring specific basic counseling skills and also knowing the pitfalls to avoid will most definitely assist the person needing support.
How to start …
Offer a warm, friendly, non-judgmental, genuine relationship and you will be supporting someone effectively.
An open posture shows the other person that you are really listening, it will also help you as well. Try to keep still, with your arms and legs uncrossed, feet on the floor and with your hands relaxed. This will help the other person to feel that you are listening and focusing on them alone. It is quite hard to achieve this and it takes practice as there is a natural tendency to interrupt and contribute to the conversation.
Watch out for signs that the other person is feeling uncomfortable. The position of the feet or arms can sometimes indicate this. People may turn up their toes, or cross their arms or legs creating a 'barrier'.
One of the most important practical skills is active listening. That means listening with your ears, eyes, heart and brain. Then summarize what you have heard. Do this on two levels, first what the person has said and secondly what they have not said but what you have understood. Give good non-verbal feedback by displaying open body language.
Reflect back what you have heard by describing what you think the person is trying to tell you. Avoid hurrying or giving solutions. An important skill is to ask open questions (questions that can not be answered with a one word answer like 'yes' or 'no'). Ask how and what, not why, because why is threatening.
Which question is less threatening:
'Why do you feel like this?' Egypt
'What has happened to make you feel like this?'
Ask how and what not why
Listen to the music behind the words
Listen with your third ear
Hear with your eyes and see with your ears
Listen to the feeling as well as the story
Generation / value gap
We all have different values, attitudes, cultures, religions and feelings. A person may come to you because of your values or because you have the same religion, culture, or gender or because they respect your age or attitudes.
Many people think that they have been given good advice when they hear what they want to hear. When someone asks you, 'What would you do if you were me?' try answering 'I wonder what you would like me to say?' The person may then tell you what the solution is to their inner conflict,
eg 'I want you to say …
See the world through their eyes
Empathise; this means trying to see their world through the other person's eyes; listen through their ears; walk in their shoes; feel through their experience; think through their frame of reference.
Give people the opportunity to show their emotions. Give them permission to feel; permit to grieve; permission to be angry and – equally important – permission to be happy.
So try to avoid using the standard phrases in a way that makes the person feel that their emotions are unacceptable. Saying 'I know how you feel' is untrue and unhelpful.
Understanding and using emotions is recognized as being essential to thinking, being creative and solving problems.
We have two brains, the feeling brain and the thinking brain. The feeling brain is even more powerful than the thinking brain. When we are upset the thinking brain shuts down. Have you ever heard someone say 'I can not think straight right now as I am too emotionally upset.'?
Try to join the person where they are at the time. Accept how they feel and just listen. Avoid trying to suggest a solution. Often there is no solution but the person will feel much better if they think and feel that you have listened to what they have said.
Their story not yours
Silence is often more helpful than words. When a person comes to you with some issue or concern, they need to talk about themselves, their feelings, and their experiences. They do not want to hear about what has happened to you in your life. Manners, stops them from talking while they have to listen to your often indulgent reminiscences. I know you will think 'rubbish I do it to help them'.
No two experiences are the same. Whilst the situation may be similar in its nature, it can never be identical; so do not join in with your own reminiscences. If you go to see a doctor about your operation scar, you do not expect them to roll up their vest and show you their scars, do you? So, as their friend or colleague do not reveal your emotional scars. You may think it will help and it is for them, but 99% of disclosures are for the discloseder! So a word of warning do not share what happened to you, the fact that you need to talk about yourself can mean that you have unfinished business and shows a lack of empathy towards the other person.
Your body language – keep arms and legs uncrossed, feet on the floor and hands loose.
Create rapport – by mirroring both the other person's body and their language.
Active listening – that is listening with your ears, eyes, heart and brain and reflecting (summarizing) what you have heard them say, as well as being aware of what they have not said.
Asking open questions – using 'What' and 'How' but respect the person's right to say 'No, that's enough for today'.
Go at their pace – seeing through their eyes, listening through their ears, walking in their shoes. Avoid digging and delving.
Zipping up by getting them to set their own goals or changes, then checking out their feeling about the time with you.
Work towards the person being able to take responsibility for themselves. Whilst it is good to be supportive, it can exacerbate the situation, if you try to do everything for them. Ask them what they think that they can achieve and then get them to set out how they think that they can achieve their chosen goals.
Go for small successes not big failures.
Counseling and friendship are different. When you act as an everyday counselor (even if you are also a friend) you need to create boundaries that stop you from becoming involved in someone's private life.
We can say so much more by touching than we can with words. It is a pity that people are losing out on the warmth and genuine love which results from appropriate touch but it must be for the other person, not you, to decide if touch is appropriate. Ask permission. Be genuine not a phoney. There are appropriate places to touch like shoulders. I am often moved to quickly touch a hand or knee when someone is very bothered.
Pitfalls in Counseling
We may feel anxious when people come to see us and wonder if we can meet their expectations. These feelings may cause us to act in some of the following named behavior types:
Mr Busy – Being too busy to listen. Too busy – not making time for people
Mrs Psychoplonker – Some individuals fancy themselves as a psychologist or psychiatrist.
Mr Nosey – Asking too many irrelevant questions. Talking too much
Mr Chatterbox – Being unable to cope with silence. Having to fill the silence.
Mr Gruesome Twosome – Wanting to be 'intimate' with the person that you are supporting.
Agreeing and condoning may some illegal or inappropriate behavior in order to be liked and feel accepted.
Mr Me Me Me – Identifying with the person, but imposing our own experiences. Identifying too closely
Mr Prejudice – Threaded by different cultures, religions, politics or gender. Considering own needs not the other person's
Mrs Oldie – Feeling rated by the generation gap. Too keen to provide a quick fix
Not allowing the person to express their needs
Mrs Do not Delve – Finding a quick solution, which only deals with the presenting problem.
Mr Fix-It – Wanting to do everything for the person.
Mr Blocker – Blocking the other person's emotions.
Ms Moral – Dictating and imposing our values onto the individual.
Everyday counseling by friends and colleges can provide much needed help and support, however some people will need professional help. If someone obviously needs more help or if you feel 'out of your depth' you can help the person to acknowledge that they need professional guidance.
Information about professional counseling can be obtained by consulting a GP or the British Association for Counseling and Psychotherapy (Tel 0870 443 5252 Email email@example.com