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The Language of Counseling
This chapter is focused on the communication skills that are used by professional counselors. Counselors-in-training
will begin their graduate studies with some kind of preconception of the counseling process and the counselor’s role.
Many of their ideas may be from the media or from their own personal counseling, and many of these ideas may be
misconceptions. It is necessary for students to understand the broad and powerful communication skills that are
foundational of the counseling process. Verbal and non-verbal skills are discussed in this chapter as they contribute
to the overall helping skills repertoire.
Class Discussion: The Effects of Communication Skills on the Counseling Relationship
The primary purpose of this chapter is to describe the communication skills that contribute to the counseling
process. Some of these skills may come naturally, while others will require more intense practice. Building these
communication skills are of utmost importance as they create the foundation of the counseling process.
1. Many counselors-in-training describe themselves as natural helpers, and many have never formally learned
communication skills. How would you describe your ability to communicate? How would you describe
what it is like to talk with someone who does not have good communication skills?
2. Suppose a client is resistant to coming to counseling. How might your communication skills help or hinder
your client’s engagement?
3. Birdwhistell (1970) found that 2/3 of the meaning of any social situation is derived from non-verbal cues.
How often do we pay attention to what our non-verbal behaviors are “saying”?
4. To what extent can the counselor be intentional about their communication skills? Can a counselor be too
distracted by trying to say the “right” thing? What might this communicate to the client?
You Only Have One Chance to Make a Good First Impression
The counseling relationship begins during the first interaction between the counselor and client, whether that is on
the phone or when the client first steps into the counseling office. However, it is rare that we ever find out what
others’ first impressions of us are.
For this exercise, divide the class into groups of approximately 8-10 individuals per group. In the groups, instruct
individuals to form a circle with their chairs. Next, one person will volunteer to go first. Every member in the group
will describe their first impression of the person who volunteered to go first. Try to be as honest as possible. Rotate
until each person in the group has had a chance to hear how other members of the group perceived them upon their
first meeting. Then, go around the group again, so that each person can hear whether or not their first impressions
have changed since the first meeting. After all individuals have heard from their group members about their first
impressions and whether or not these impressions have changed, come back together as a class. Ask students to
process the activity.
1. What was it like to hear about how you make a first impression? Is this the impression that you want to make?
2. What was it like to share your experiences of your group members? Was it difficult to be honest?
3. What verbal interactions contributed to your first impressions, either for yourself or for other people? What
non-verbal factors contributed to it?
4. Do you only get one chance to make a first impression? How did your impressions change?
Class Discussion – Being Aware of Non-verbal Cues
In this chapter, the importance of non-verbal skills was emphasized. However, many people are not aware of what
their non-verbal cues communicate. They may not pay attention to how much they communicate by what they do
not say. They may not recognize how facial expressions impact an interaction. Yet, a great deal of research has been
conducted on how our non-verbal behavior affects communication and relationships.
1. Consider your personal space (e.g. bedroom) and physical arrangement of furniture and belongings in your
home. What does this communicate about you? Is this consistent with what you intend to communicate?
2. Try to remember a time that you experienced an awkward interaction with someone. What non-verbal
factors may have made this interaction uncomfortable?
3. Often, people demonstrate non-verbal behaviors that they are nervous or anxious. What do you do when
you are nervous? Do you talk fast? Blush? Fidget? What if you communicate this to a client?
4. Is there such thing as “ideal” or “appropriate” non-verbal behaviors? Can these be learned? How might
they differ cross-culturally?
Experiencing What it is Like to Talk and to Listen With Intention
In the text, communication skills are described as being either verbal or non-verbal. Communication
occurs when messages are encoded and decoded. During an interaction, communicating and receiving
can be equally difficult. Yet, the communication process of encoding and decoding is the hallmark of
the counseling process.
In dyads, have one student be the “talker” and one student be the “listener”. The talker is instructed to
talk about whatever s/he wishes for 10 minutes. The listener is not to say anything but may provide
minimal responses (e.g., “mmm,” “mm-hmm,” etc.). Both the listener and talker are instructed to pay
attention to nonverbal behaviors as well as the content of the talker’s narrative. Then have the dyads
switch roles. After both have had a chance to be the talker and the listener, ask them to discuss their
Which role was more difficult? What was difficult?
What non-verbal behaviors were observed?
Were you able to pay attention to content as well as non-verbal behaviors?
Class Discussion: The Over-use of Verbal Responses
Although the verbal skills described in Chapter 2 are used throughout the counseling process, they are often overused. For example, one common trap of early counselors is that they use too many questions, which typically results
in frustration for both the counselor and the client. Using Table 2.1 in the text, have students discuss how each
counselor response can be overused.
1. What are examples of the overuse of each counselor response?
2. How does the overuse of each counselor response impact the counseling relationship and the client’s ability
to share their narrative?
3. Non-verbal skills can be overused as well. Smiling can be a difficult skill. Do you think that it is possible to
smile too much? What might be the negative effect of this?
Integrating Technology In The Classroom
Body Language– http://www-usr.rider.edu/~suler/bodylang.html
This webpage, created by Dr. John Suler of Rider University, describes 5 in-class exericises that can be utilized to
help students learn the subtleties of body language and non-verbal behavior.
Cross-Cultural Communication– http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/cross-cultural_communication/
Individuals may have communication styles that are consistent with their cultures. It is important for students to
recognize that there are cross-cultural differences with regard to communication. This article was written by
Michelle LeBaron (2003) for Beyond Intractability: A Free Knowledge Base on More Constructive Approaches to
Destructive Conflict. It discusses that all communication is embedded in culture.
Communication Awareness—Three modules (Adlerian, Person-centered, Integrative) are suggested in an exercise
at the end of Chapter 2. Ask students to review all three and then draw comparisons between them. What similar
threads can be identified? How is each different from the other two? Which feels more comfortable? What is it that
makes it more comfortable?
Key Terms in This Chapter
decoding verbal communication
nonverbal communication psychological barrier
body language silence
pause contact culture
non-contact culture minimal response
closed question open-ended question
probe summary statement
summary of feeling summary of content
encouraging response confrontation
therapeutic challenge interpretation response
interpretive request directive response