Assessment of a Counselling Session

Introduction

This paper will assess a counselling session provided by counsellor Louise. Her client was a musician who felt pressure from deadlines and the necessity to meet his fans’ expectations and experienced self-doubt and writer’s block. Louise effectively used such micro skills as minimal encourages, reflecting feeling, effective questioning, self-disclosing, and exploring options to make the client come up with solutions that would help him to overcome these problems.

Essential Micro Skills

Minimal encouragers are an essential micro skill that counsellors use to show the client that they are listening carefully and motivate the client to speak further. These minimal responses can be verbal, such as the words okay, mmm, and uh-huh, and non-verbal, like nodding or encouraging gestures. In the video example, the counsellor effectively used minimal encouragers throughout the session to make the client feel comfortable and heard and encourage him to talk. For example, this is demonstrated at the point of the video (7:09) when the counsellor asked the client to share the details of a conversation that he found difficult and disturbing:

Counsellor: “What was difficult about it in particular?”

Client: “Well, she was trying to help…”

Counsellor: “Uh-huh.”

Client: “But it was kind of feel like you’re not helping.”

Counsellor: “Yeah, okay.”

Client: “Yeah, sort of helping yourself, yeah.”

Counsellor: “Mmmm.”

As a result, the client was motivated to talk about his experience and shared what exactly he found difficult in the situation he described to the counsellor. In 7 minutes 39 seconds, Louise nodded her head in response to the client’s words. By doing so, the counsellor showed the client that his feelings were understood and encouraged him to continue. The use of minimal encouragers helps counsellors to build rapport with their clients, make them feel safe, and evoke a sense of trustworthiness. The described example confirms it since the implementation of this micro skill contributed to establishing the relationship between the counsellor and the client and enabled the client to elaborate on the issue at hand.

Reflection of feeling is another essential verbal micro skill that leads to a clear awareness of clients’ feelings and brings relief to clients by showing them that their feelings are accepted and not judged. The counsellor used this skill at the point in the video (4:16) when she said, “Sounds like a number of things going on there. You’ve said you’ve had deadlines before, but that you’ve managed them fairly well. This is a bit different because you’re feeling like there’s a push on the creativity to do something different.” In this excerpt, the counsellor reflected both the content and the client’s feelings about the situation he described. It seems to raise the client’s awareness of his feelings since he began to elaborate on his experience and analyze his behavior. At another point in the video (12:44), the counsellor again used the reflection of feeling:

Client: “I’m just really doubting myself at the moment. It’s not a space that I’m used to being in.”

Counsellor: “Okay, so doubt is, is probably the thing that’s got the most influence on you at the moment, making it hard to move forward.”

Client: “Mmmm, yeah.”

In this case, this micro skill contributed to building rapport between the counsellor and the client and brought relief to the client by demonstrating acceptance and non-judgment of his feelings. Reflecting feelings facilitates clients’ expression of emotions, raises self-awareness and helps to establish an empathetic relationship. In the reviewed examples, the counsellor effectively used this micro skill to build rapport and make the client feel comfortable with his emotions.

Effective questioning is also an essential micro skill that is used to gather relevant information, clarify the client’s feelings and thoughts, and help the client to disclose more. Counsellors are encouraged to ask open-ended questions to elicit more information from the client, but closed-ended questions may be helpful as well. The counsellor in the video example used both types of questions to encourage the client to talk. At one point in the video (2:51), she asked, “What’s that pressure feel like when you talk about pressure from, from a deadline? What happens for you?” This open-ended question encouraged the client to expand on his initial response. At another point in the video (8:05), the counsellor asked, “Has the band been through a rough patch like this before, I wonder?” In this instance, a closed-ended question was used to clarify the relevant information about the client, and it revealed that the difficult situation in which the client found himself was new to him. Effective questioning was effectively used in this session to gather relevant information and encourage talking.

Advanced Micro Skills

Exploring options is one of the advanced micro skills that is used to help the client to find several possible solutions to the problem that makes them feel stuck or seems insoluble. When using this micro skill, the counsellor does not provide the client with ready-made solutions; instead, he or she encourages the client to explore the options in a tentative way. The counsellor in the video example used this skill at a particular point (15:37):

Counsellor: “You’ve probably got some experience with writer’s block at different times. What have you found in the past as being really helpful?”

Client: “Going on a trip, experiencing… yeah, experiencing different cultures, different music, food. I love food.”

Counsellor: “So is that like putting the guitar down and having a break?”

Client: “Yeah.”

In this instance, the counsellor helped the client search for options by referring to his past experience. Later in the session, the option explored at this point led the client to the conclusion that he needed to vary his experiences in order to overcome writer’s block. The counsellor effectively used the micro skill of exploring options in this case since it helped the client come up with a possible solution to his problem. At the same time, the counsellor did not impose her own views or solutions on the client, which emphasized the client’s autonomy.

Therapist self-disclosure is another advanced micro skill that refers to intentional verbal disclosure of the counsellor’s thoughts, feelings, or life experiences. The counsellor in the video example used this skill in 18 minutes 19 seconds when she said:

“I’m struck by your comment about going away and putting the guitar down, and I know for myself. I often find that sometimes I can be working on something really hard, and not working on it actually makes the difference, having a bit of space, and going for a walk. Sounds like you’re talking about something similar, then, going for a holiday where you actually put some distance between you and the work.”

In this excerpt, the counsellor shared her life experience with the client to show that she was familiar with the client’s feelings. Therapist self-disclosure should be used carefully in the counselling practice because it can detract attention from the client and may distort the client’s perception of the therapist. However, in the described example, therapist self-disclosure was used appropriately since it enhanced trust between the counsellor and the client and validated the client’s feelings. After therapist self-disclosure, the client was able to explore more options that could help him cope with issues at hand.

The Goaling Process

Goaling is the process of determining what the client expects to gain from the counselling session and developing a specific action plan to help the client to achieve the set goal. In the video example, the client came to the counsellor with a problem of feeling pressure from deadlines and writer’s block. The first step in the goaling process that the counsellor took was finding out what the client was expecting to get from the session. At one point in the video (1:00), she formulated the client’s expectations from the session: “So, it sounds like you’re hoping that this conversation might give you some ideas about this problem that’s bothering you.” Since the client confirmed that the counsellor understood him correctly, she proceeded with gathering more relevant information about the client’s problems and exploring possible solutions.

During the conversation, the counsellor discovered that the client wanted to get his inspiration back because his writer’s block resulted in pressure from deadlines. As the client’s needs became clearer, the counsellor took the next step to identify the resources that the client had in order to set a realistic and attainable goal. In 13 minutes 28 seconds, she asked, “What’s getting that drive going forward despite these external pressures?” By doing so, the counsellor encouraged the client to think about what helped him to overcome similar issues in the past and whether the same solutions could work for the current problems. The counsellor used the same strategy later in the conversation (15:37) to encourage the client to remember how he had overcome writer’s block in the past. These steps helped the counsellor to find out what resources the client had to fulfill his goal and whether the goal was congruent with his values.

Further, the counsellor and the client explored possible specific actions that the client could take to accomplish his goal. At this point (19:50), the counsellor said, “I wonder if I could just check in with you at this point around some of the things that we’ve talked about, and maybe what has been helpful or whether you’ve had any ideas… that I’m helping you with this idea of writer’s block or which way to go.” By saying this, the counsellor encouraged the client to reflect on what had been said before and think of specific actions that he needed to take to cope with his problems. In 24 minutes 35 seconds, the counsellor summarized the options explored earlier and asked the client to choose those that he was going to accomplish soon. This step was important because, for a goal to be achievable, it should be specific.

The goaling process in this session continued more evidently in the final part of the session. At this point (27:12), the counsellor said, “I wonder about just a sign that things were improving … What would be the first sign that you knew things were moving in the right direction for you?” By asking this question, the counsellor made sure that the goal set by the client was measurable, and the progress could be traced. When the client suggested the indicator of his success, the counsellor asked (27:42) whether the set goal was realistic, which was important because setting an unattainable goal would not bring any therapeutic effect. Later in the video (29:49), the counsellor notices that the client mentioned the time frame for his actions, so she stated that it would be the deadline for his goal. As a result of the goaling process that occurred throughout the session, the client came up with a specific, outcome-oriented, attainable, measurable, and relevant goal that was to be accomplished within a particular time limit.

Suggestions for Improvement

To improve the process of the session, the counsellor could use the micro skill of normalizing at the point (1:52) when the client said that he experienced writer’s block. The client felt anxious about his writer’s block, which can be concluded from his difficulties in sleeping and loss of appetite. Therefore, by using normalizing, the counsellor would bring the client emotional relief and explain to him that his emotional state was a reasonable response to the external pressure he experienced.

Another suggestion for improvement is to use a micro skill of attending at one point (17:30) by changing the posture to a more open one, without crossing legs. It is clear that at the beginning of the session, the counsellor tried to reflect the posture of the client to build rapport. By 17 minutes, the rapport had been established, so the counsellor could take up a more relaxed position, which could encourage the client to do the same. As a result of this change in posture, the client could become more open to the counsellor.