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  • jane@northside

Back to Basics in Counselling Skills

Updated: Feb 27

What are counselling skills?

Many people use counselling skills within their professional roles. If you work in a role where you provide help and assistance e.g. schools, hospitals, care homes, charity sector or HR, you may use counselling skills but not be a qualified counsellor.

Counselling skills help by:

  • Recognising the signs of when someone needs to talk

  • Providing a safe listening space for them

  • Recognising when to signpost or refer someone on for further help or assistance if they need it.

Essentially, counselling skills are used to support an individual’s decision-making or feeling better, without needing to impose his or her own view on what the individual should do or feel. These skills are similar to those used by professional counsellors in their work:

  • Actively listening and giving the individual full attention.

  • Being aware of both verbal and non-verbal communication

  • Creating a warm and genuine relationship – in which the individual feels accepted, without being judged

  • Giving feedback by reflecting back what the individual is saying

  • Helping to explore key issues and bringing out options available to the individual.

Back to Basics in Counselling Skills : 5 Key Principles

The skills can be summed up in the 5 Key Principles

  • Listening

  • Empathy

  • Congruence

  • Open Questions

  • Unconditional Positive Regard


Listening is more than just hearing what the other person is saying. Listening also has a lot to do with body language, position and feedback. All these things together show that the person is giving full attention and showing that are interested and care about what is being said.

Think about what happens when you feel someone has heard and understood you. How do you know they are listening?


We all have our own perception of the world. Empathy is where we try to understand the thoughts and feelings that the other person experiences.

Next time you are having a conversation with someone, try and understand what they are saying from their situation or experience.


Congruence is about being genuine or real. It is important when building a trusting relationship. A warm and genuine approach helps others to feel valued and accepted.

Who do you feel most comfortable talking to - someone who feels that they have another agenda in talking to you or someone who feels genuine and accepting?

Open Questions

When asking open questions in a conversation the answer isn't limited to a specific bit of information or a yes or no answer. Open questions helpexplore more about what is going on.

Try asking a mix of open and closed questions in conversations. Some examples of open questions are:

  • What happened next?

  • When you say..... what do you mean?

  • How do/did you feel?

  • What do you think ....?

Unconditional Positive Regard

Unconditional positive regard is not about liking a person or accepting everything they have done; it's about respecting the person as a human being. Unconditional positive regard also has the basic assumption that the person has their own free will is doing the best they can.

Next time someone makes a mistake- try approaching it from the unconditional positive regard angle. Give them encouragement and value as a person. Does it feel different?

Want To Know More?

So you've read the Back to Basics in Counselling skills and you'd like to know more. Our 2 day Introduction to Counselling Skills covers the 5 Key Principles in more depth as well as including opportunities to develop your skills in the practice sessions. Taking place over a weekend, the course is ideal if you use counselling skills within your professional role. Its also perfect if you use counselling skills within your personal life, such as chatting with friends or family. Its also a great starting point if you are looking at a career as a counsellor.

You may also want to have a look at the Competency Framework developed by the BACP.

Counselling Skills Competency Framework

The BACP have developed a competency framework for counselling skills as a general guide in best practice. The overview table is below. You can see the full document on their website.

BACP Areas of competence for counselling skills


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