Counselling falls into two basic categories: group and individual. Each category can be further divided by the theories of counselling and the needs of those counselled. Individual counselling has the advantage of privacy and intimacy, and is more likely to elicit honest self-evaluations from clients. Counsellors rely on a variety of principles and techniques to facilitate greater self-understanding in the client, matching individual techniques with the needs of a particular client.
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Empathising, Not Identifying
Empathy is the ability to vicariously identify the feelings and thoughts of another person. Counsellors must empathise with their clients without identifying with them because it can erode the professional detachment necessary to assist the client. A counsellor working with a spouse abuser, for example, needs to understand the client's thoughts and feelings so the client can understand them and change them.
Every client who enters into a counselling relationship is different. Before determining counselling techniques, the counsellor must establish goals with the client. The counsellor asks the client what he expects to achieve, in addition to eliciting the client's ideas about what achieving the goal will mean in everyday life. The intake interview is also important for the counsellor to gain an understanding of the client's personality, strengths and weaknesses, as well as establish rapport.
Individual counselling techniques fall into numerous counselling approach categories, depending on why the client is seeing a counsellor. A client who feels compelled to repeat a behaviour that is harmful or self-destructive might benefit from a cognitive behavioural approach that helps her identify previously unacknowledged thought patterns that lead to the harmful behaviour. A client who feels emotionally disturbed without any apparent reason might benefit from a psychodynamic approach that helps her uncover repressed experiences from early childhood. Each approach is accompanied by clinical techniques.
Regardless of the approach, the counsellor-client relationship almost always involves conversation. The client reveals much about his thinking with language. Clients reveal preconceptions, value judgments, likes and dislikes through conversations. The counsellor's responsibility is to accurately identify these thought patterns to assist the client with her problem. The counsellor must ensure that she is understanding the client correctly. Techniques that prevent misunderstanding and reassure the client include active listening, paraphrasing and summarising, non-judgemental facial expressions and body language, and copious note-taking.
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