Micro-skills for counseling encapsulates the engagement phase of the session; they are of critical importance to build rapport, trust and the therapeutic alliance (Bogo, 2006). Practice with counseling micro-skills you are reading and learning about can seriously boost your growth as a psychology student and future counseling or clinical practitioner. Listening and silence, exploring with questions that are neither judgmental nor leading, and the use of nonverbal body language, are the language of micro-skills in counseling as they help you to actively hearing what the client is saying.
Common micro-skills in counseling are: - Active listening - Nonverbal communication - Silence - Empathy
These are many methods and techniques in the repertoire of counseling micro-skills, and they can differ across modalities. Ultimately, the counseling micro-skills that you practice in class help you to develop into a practitioner, that can adapt to reticent clients, or to those unfamiliar with expressing themselves openly with others (e.g., many addicts). Across time, I've had many opportunities to apply micro-skills for counseling with clients, including students when the life-study balance is more than a bit of a juggle. As such I can attest to their value. Unfortunately, in my counseling tutoring work, particularly during counseling practice, it is not unusual for a student to underestimate the vitality of counseling micro-skills. So often the small verbal sounds, light body language shifts, and opportunities to encourage a client to disclose further, are viewed by a student as a 'tick a box' item on their counseling assignment prac sheet.
The key to acing your counseling assignment is to apply the micro-skills for counseling in your assessment work. By that I mean reflective assignments, video demonstrations, case reports and essays. The process of demonstrating on paper to your lecturer/supervisor that you see the relevance of micro-skills in counseling as part of the engagement process with a client, develops your understanding and practical application.
For example, whilst you are drafting your counseling assignment or prac report, take the opportunity to role-play the counseling micro-skills you've learnt in class or in the workplace. You will get a better sense of what to use when, how to use the skill and why. All of which will depend on the modality you are using to frame your role-play. In turn, you will find yourself learning about micro-skills in counseling at a much deeper level.
Remember~ the essential nature of counseling micro-skills to aid you in building trust and respect (rapport) with the client, at the beginning of a session relationship, as well as maintaining that therapeutic alliance across sessions (Cummins, Sevel, & Pedrick, 2005). This is no small feat.
Sometimes I practice my micro-skills for counseling by reflecting on my interactions with people; Could I have demonstrated a wider-range of micro-skills such as those used in counseling to better 'hear' the other person? For example, could I have paraphrased more, rather than assuming I knew where the other person was coming from? Was there more opportunity for nonverbal communication than I realised at the time? (e.e., such as leaning forward when the other person spoke, or smiling when they laughed and I did not quite understand the humour). Were there times I missed my cue to let the other know that I was not judging (within reason) what they shared, to expand on moments of openness and disclosure?
Overall, the act of active listening, empathy, use of silence and other such micro-skills in counseling, can cultivate a deep trust between yourself and another. Whilst your an undergraduate, seek to showcase this understanding in your assessment work, and you will being to integrate the skills into your 'way of being' as a person and practitioner-in-training. As a student on prac, you will find that more than a few clients need to 'warm to you' before letting you in to see their vulnerabilities. In my counseling tutoring work, being a practice client for students or supporting their counseling internship as they complete prac in the field, your taking time to implement micro-skills to your counseling sessions communicates authenticity. And it is amazing some of the life experiences that are shared about fears, betrayals, concerns and moments of sacred joy, that a client will disclose when the therapeutic bond is solid.
When a client feels seen and heard, valued as a person who is not in counseling 'to be fixed', they feel understood and appreciated for who they are and their interpretation of life. They feel validated. In turn, they are more likely to show you they trust you by revealing deeper thoughts, emotions, and experiences with you. That's life changing for each of you.
So, crack open those books and soak up as many Youtube or TED talk vids as you can, and hone your para-linguistic and minimal verbal counseling micro-skills. Take as many opportunities as you can in your day-to-day life to actively listen to others, and be sincerely concerned about what they are saying or showing you in their body language. Whether it's in a shopping centre aisle gabbing about the multitude of uses for bay leaves or joking with the butcher about their 3pm cherry ripe cravings...be mindful of the Person before you. Become more aware of their personal context and how such backgrounds can influence a potential therapeutic relationship. For example, for many Indigenous Australians an informal chat and sharing a yarn is a way people build social capital, only then will a conversation move comfortably to the crux of an issue (Lynn, 2001). Respect the guarded and defensive person, and value the patience and pacing they require of you. Enjoy the challenge of an awkward encounter with a stranger, and grow in understanding of the ways in which another may find themselves intimidated by you, or consider you paternalist. The diversity of life experiences you interact with on a daily basis is your training ground for the counseling micro-skills learn in class or on prac. Attend to these and you will find your sensitivity growing for the rapport building needs of each person (Healy 2005; Lum, 2003), even when that 'person' is a 2D or text-based case study. Learn to tune through participatory engagement with your counseling micro-skills and bring that understanding and insight to your assignments and or client reports.
Bogo, M. (2006). Social work practice: Concepts, processes and interviewing. New York: Columbia University Press.
Cummins, L.. Sevel, J. & Pedrick, L. (2005). Social work skills demonstrated (2nd Ed.). Boston: Pearson.
Healy, K. (2005). Social work theories in context: Creating frameworks for practice. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave MacMillan.
Lum, D. (Ed.) (2003). Culturally competent practice: A framework for understanding diverse groups and justice issues (2nd Ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole-Thomson Learning.
Lynn, E. (2001). Learning from a 'Murri Way'.’ British Journal of Social Work, 31, 903 – 916.