Thursday, June 21, 2012

Micro-Skills in Counseling

Using Micro-Skills Comfortably and Effectively

Personally, it would feel fairly natural to begin a counseling session. I am social and enjoy talking with people. I might engage in some small talk to help them feel comfortable unless they seemed to disengage with small talk or if they intimated that they wanted to get to the issues for which they sought counseling. If engaging in small talk did not seem appropriate, I would move toward letting them express their needs. For example, I might ask them if they would like to talk a little about what brought them in today. That said, the micro-skills I am most comfortable using are active listening, reflecting, and reframing. One of my concerns with using micro-skills is implementing them as techniques but with a delivery that does not betray their technical nature. In other words, using techniques, but with empathy and genuine care.

Active Listening

I find active listening an essential component to any social alliance, certainly in the therapeutic relationship. As a new counselor, Levitt (2001) posits active listening will increase my ability to feel comfortable in my new position and function more effectively with clients. Levitt (2001) further contends that active listening supports empathetic responses. Toller (1999) believes counseling is "based on the understanding that it is through the experience of being listened to, accepted and truly heard by another person that we can begin to heal some of the pain and hurt of our human existence" (p. 48-49). In some situations, research suggests active listening is far more effective than giving advice (Paukert, Stagner, & Hope, 2004).

Not only does active listening validate and promote growth in the client, it does the same for the counselor. Toller (1999) additionally believes the value of active listening surpasses counselor fluency, experience, and any one particular theoretical orientation (Toller, 1999). Gloria Steinem (1992) expressed the belief that every person wants to feel validated and yearns for someone to acknowledge and accept their higher self, or at least the hidden self who craves to be seen and endorsed. Active listening seems the primary hue on the color wheel of micro-skills. Levitt (2001) cites Neufeldt et al. (1995) as writing "Ironically, anxious attention to skills and performance creates less attention to the client, thus trainees become less effective listeners and counselors" (p. 102).


Knapp (2007) regards reflecting and paraphrasing as the same skill, so for the purposes of this post, I will refer to them as such. Reflecting clients' words and feelings lets them know the counselor is listening attentively and is interested in their issues, especially the reasons for which they are in counseling. One important aspect of Knapp's (2007) perspective on reflecting is the idea that as well as aiding the therapist's understanding of a client's story completely, "reflection helps the client hear what he or she is saying, which may facilitate introspection and self-understanding" (p. 71). I feel comfortable with reflecting. It will keep me engaged with the client and allow me to subtly offer the client a perspective from a slightly different angle (me relating the story rather than hearing it from their own voice.) Furthermore, reflecting will prove to the client I am interested and considering their situation. This care and consideration will build trust and appreciation, contributing to the therapeutic alliance.


Reframing allows the counselor to put a positive spin (loose application of the term) on the client's perspective. Without imposing personal beliefs and values, the counselor can help clients perceive their circumstances from a slightly different perspective. As Knapp (2007) explains, reframing can help clients who present information in an excessively negative manner or is highly critical of him or herself. I am comfortable using this micro-skill carefully. Helping clients perceive a lighter or more positive side of a situation can help them reflect and consider other perspectives. Whether the client can accept the positive side of the situation or he or she fails to do so, the counselor's interest, consideration, and care will contribute to creating a therapeutic relationship.


Knapp, H. (2007). Therapeutic communication: Developing professional skills. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.

Levitt, D. H. (2001). Active listening and counselor self-efficacy: Emphasis on one microskill in beginning counselor training. Clinical Supervisor, 20(2), 101–115.

Paukert, A., Stagner, B., & Hope, K. (2004). The Assessment of Active Listening Skills in Helpline Volunteers. Stress, Trauma, and Crisis, 7(1), 61-76. doi: 10.1080/15434610490281075

Steinem, G. (1992). Revolution from within: A book of self-esteem. Boston: Little, Brown.

Toller, P. (1999). Chapter 3: Learning to listen, learning to hear: A training approach. In P. Millner & B. Carolin (Eds.). Time to listen to children: Personal and professional communication (pp. 48-61). New York: Routledge.

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