Monday, July 9, 2012

Micro-Skills II

Appropriate disclosure, proxemics, and eye contact are counseling skills that contribute to building a therapeutic alliance. Verbal and non-verbal attending skills demonstrate counselors' intention to appreciate and understand clients' challenges and life experiences. Implemented appropriately, verbal and non-verbal messages communicate attentiveness and empathy to clients and increase the quality of exchange in therapy (Preston, 2005).

Eye Contact

Individual Counseling Session

Eye contact enables counselors to observe client behavior and demonstrates genuine interest and attentiveness, which contribute to an effective therapeutic process (Knapp, 2008). For example, when clients convey personal information, they sense the warmth and authentic interest in the counselor's gaze (Willis, Palermo, & Burke, 2011). Appropriate eye contact will support clients' ability to feel comfortable and open with the counselor. Additionally, the level of eye contact can alert the counselor to client behaviors that may represent additional emotional issues. Because eye contact is perceived differently, counselors must gauge the client's comfort level with this non-verbal communication (Willis, Palermo, & Burke, 2011).

Family Counseling Session

Butt, Sharif, Muhammed, Fanoos, and Ayesha (2011) found people depend on communication devices, such as eye contact to demonstrate inter-relatedness. In a family counseling session, maintaining eye contact with family members has a powerful affect on their behavior and communication. It supports each member's perception of their significance and interconnectedness within the family (Butt, Shariff, Muhammed, Fanoos, & Ayesha, 2011). When individual family members speak, the counselor must acknowledge and maintain eye contact with the speaker to assure the counselor's attentiveness and empathy (Knapp, 2008). Eye contact will engage each family member and allow the counselor to observe their behavior (Knapp, 2008).


Individual Counseling Session

Professional and personal disclosure can establish a common bond in the therapeutic alliance, although the boundaries of disclosure can be ill-defined (Knapp, 2008). For example, when working with an individual dealing with addiction, it may benefit the client to use professional disclosure. When the client asks how the counselor can understand the deep effects of addiction, the counselor may disclose that he or she received training and worked as an addictions counselor. Alternatively, the counselor may disclose a similar personal family experience to give a sense of hope to a client whose child has addiction issues (Knapp, 2008).

Family Counseling Session

The moderate use of counselors' self-disclosure can create a valuable bond between the client and the counselor, but should be implemented in a thoughtful and deliberate manner (Knapp, 2008). When working with families, clients may experience a higher level of trust when the counselor discloses prior experience, comfort, and success with resolving similar family issues. Alternatively, when working with a family coping with the loss of a family member, the counselor may use personal self-disclosure as an example to give clients strength and hope. This must always be used carefully and only when perceived as an essential addition to the bond between the family and the counselor (Knapp, 2008).


Individual Counseling Session

Haase and DiMattia, (1970) believe understanding the benefits of proxemics is critical in effective counseling, although counselors may fail to use its valuable contribution to affecting behavior. The furniture arrangement as well as other objects in the immediate counseling setting can contribute to, or detract from, the client's overall experience and comfort (Haase & DiMattia, (1970). Allowing clients to seat themselves in preferred positions may support their spatial boundaries as well as increasing their comfort and openness. Preston (2005) recommends clinicians develop sensitivity toward proximity and the messages it sends to clients.

Family Counseling Session

In a family counseling session it may be particularly beneficial to reasonably accommodate the specific needs of each family member. Allowing each individual to position themselves in a location in which they feel comfortable and safe can contribute to each individual's comfort level and the family's overall therapeutic outcome (Preston, 2005). Harrison, Ishii, and Chignell (n.d.) found that proxemics affect interactions and encourage, as well as discourage human interaction. In effective family counseling, counselors can use proxemics to engage each member as an interrelated and integral part of the family unit.


Verbal and non-verbal communication such as eye contact, disclosure, and proxemics imply powerful messages that can contribute to or detract from the therapeutic alliance. These tools must be used appropriately, according to the client's comfort level, and always in their best interest. Ultimately, using communication devices effectively creates in-roads to the client world wherein counselors can affect authentic change and healing.


Butt, M. M., Sharif, M. M., Muhammed, N., Fanoos, A., & Ayesha, U. (2011). Eye contact as an efficient non-verbal teaching technique: A survey of teachers' opinion. European Journal of Social Science, 19(1), 41-45.

Haase, R. F., & DiMattia, D. J. (1970). Proxemic behavior: Counselor, administrator, and client preference for seating arrangement in dyadic interaction. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 17(4), 319-325. doi: 10.1037/h0029662

Harrison, B., Ishii, H., & Chignell, M. H. (n.d.). Http:// University of Toronto. Retrieved July 7, 2012, from

Nyman, S. J., & Daugherty, T. K. (2001). Congruence of counselor self-disclosure and perceived effectiveness. Journal of Psychology, 135(3), 269–276.

Preston, P. (2005). Proxemics in clinical and administrative settings. Journal of Healthcare Management, 50(3), 151-154.

Willis, M. L., Palermo, R., & Burke, D. (2011). Social Judgments are Influenced By Both Facial Expression and Direction of Eye Gaze. Social Cognition, 29(4), 415-429. doi: 10.1521/soco.2011.29.4.415

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