When you picture the ideal counselor, you’re probably picturing someone who is genuinely empathetic, open-minded, a good listener, and has the relevant qualifications and experience.
In many ways, counseling is about relationships. You have to be able to trust the person you are confiding in. Most people don’t feel comfortable opening their hearts and minds up to someone who they don’t feel will do their best to help and support them. And they’re more likely to feel this with someone who has the traits of a good counselor.
Some of these things can be taught. Others are embedded in your personality. If you’re considering a career in counseling, you might be wondering if you have these traits and qualifications. Here is a helpful list to get you started.
A good counselor genuinely cares about their clients. They should have the ability to empathize with people from a wide range of backgrounds and people experiencing a wide range of problems, even if they can’t relate to what the patient is experiencing.
A client wants to feel heard and understood. A counselor should be compassionate and provide them with a safe space to open up about whatever they need to express. They don’t necessarily want pity. A truly caring and compassionate counselor is understanding and supportive but never condescending. When you’re meeting with people who are at a very low point in their lives you have to be able to visualize things from their perspective. This involves being flexible in your mindset and putting the client and their needs above your own biases.
Some people just need to know that they are heard and believed.
Highly evolved listening skills
To help people find their voice, you must first find your ears. Truly listening to people is the bedrock of counseling. Hearing what they are saying- and what they aren’t saying- is an important skill. A good counselor should read both their client’s words and their nonverbal cues.
Listening comes before the ability to give good advice and strategies. People feel more comfortable opening up to a good listener, and when they really open up, healing can begin.
Good communication skills
In many ways, this goes hand in hand with listening skills. A good counselor should be easy to talk to. Talking to people is a large part of your job, so it’s preferable if you’re a bit of a people person and have excellent communication skills. This includes being able to read the room and think about what you’re going to say before you say it.
Asking open-ended questions and allowing the client to explore and think deeply is really going to help you both communicate better.
Funnily enough, good communication also involves knowing when to be silent. Don’t feel the need to fill every silence. Sometimes an awkward silence comes right before the biggest revelation in a session! Allow the client to feel what they’re feeling and give them space and freedom to work things out in their head.
Some characteristics of a good counselor are intrinsic, but others can be taught. Clients want to be reassured that their counselor really knows their stuff.
Studying and obtaining formal qualifications can really add another level to your set of skills. In addition to naturally developed knowledge and lived experience, you’ll be taught techniques and skills from professionals that will make you a more well-rounded and informed counselor.
You’ll also get to know the industry- the legalities and ethics, the boundaries, the technicalities, and more.
Giving advice isn’t the most important part of a counseling session, but it’s what many clients are looking for. A good counselor knows when not to offer opinions and advice- but they can also give creative problem-solving strategies when necessary.
It isn’t just about solving the client’s personal problems. If a session isn’t going well, a counselor should be resourceful and find other ways to go about it. Having a toolkit of a few different methods and solutions will increase the likelihood of successful communication. But not every appointment needs to be a shining success- sometimes the emotional sessions where things seem to go wrong are actually the ones where a client works through things in their own mind or comes to a conclusion on their own. Their most important progress happens inside their head and heart and isn’t always visible from the outside.
If you possess these traits and are willing to learn more, you’ll likely be a good counselor. A good counselor can make a world of difference for an individual at some of the lowest points of their life. Just listening and caring about what they have to say can be the thing that makes them start their journey of healing.