As a counselor, your role is incredibly important. You provide emotional support to people who need it in order to help people improve their mental health and get through tough times. With such a high responsibility, it makes sense that you would want to improve your skills, even if you are already an effective counselor. So, whether you are a newbie or you have been in the role for several years, here are nineteen ways to improve your counseling skills.
1. Choose the Right Course
Like most careers, you must start with education. Your education is a pivotal point in your counseling career, as it is the moment when you become the kind of counselor you are to be. This means that you must choose the right course that suits your needs and aspirations.
Choose a human services degree if you want to study online, learn a wide range of skills, and prepare for a career of helping others. In this bachelor’s course, you will learn about psychology, mental illness, research methods. The great part about studying online is that you don’t have to give up your current job or travel out of state for a course that allows you to become a counselor.
Even if you already have your bachelor’s, there are still plenty of courses out there that will help you improve your skills – some online, some not.
2. Work on Communication
Communication is a huge part of counseling. As a counselor, you will spend the majority of your time talking to your patients, hoping to get them to open up and dig to the root of their problems. It is a part of healthcare that is all about the art of conversation, which means that, when it comes to chatting, you should be an expert.
Of course, you aren’t going to be chatting to your patients the same way you talk to your friends, so focus on communication that makes people feel relaxed, thoughtful, and open. Remember, communication isn’t just about what you say – you should also think about your body language.
3. Be Organized
If you wish to be a successful counselor, then you must be organized. The more clients you have, the more important this becomes, so try to get the hang of this early on. Your clients won’t appreciate canceled appointments or forgetfulness. To provide the best care possible, you must show them that they are your priority and you respect them enough to keep on top of your work. It helps to keep a diary and always make a note of any changes happening throughout the day. If you ever need to cancel an appointment, then make sure you let your patient know ahead of time and offer to reschedule at a time that suits them.
4. Have Confidence
If you are a new counselor, you might be a little worried. After all, patients are putting their mental health in your hands. To be a great counselor, though, you must have confidence in your abilities and your reasonings.
When a patient enters your room, they need to know that they can trust you to help them, so there’s no room for doubt from yourself. Remember, you have your license for a reason, and the biggest effort comes from your patients!
5. Be Empathetic
Surprisingly, empathy is something you can become better at! This is great news for those doing a human services degree or wanting to enter a healthcare career. As a counselor, your job is to help people suffering from mental health issues, which takes a great deal of empathy to do well.
The ability to empathize with your patients will improve your counseling skills overall. Your patients will feel better listened to and understand, making them feel safe and comforted while you help them get through their mental pain. Doing a human services degree will help you with empathy, as you will learn more about ethics.
6. Have a Sense of Humor
Even though counseling is a serious business, it doesn’t hurt to be a little silly from time to time. In fact, it is beneficial! While your clients will be going through real-life problems that are not funny at all, you can still lift the mood and change your patients’ perspective by throwing in a little joke now and again. Just make sure it isn’t personal, of course.
Your sense of humor won’t only improve your skills while counseling, but it will also help you get through some of the darker parts of the job. Being a counselor isn’t always easy, especially when you are face to face with upsetting and traumatic stories. Having a sense of humor could be the one thing that pulls you through an otherwise disheartening day.
7. Take Care of Your Well-Being
To improve as a counselor, you must first improve as a person, and this means taking good take of your body and mind. After all, if you can’t look after yourself, how will you look after your patients?
Healthy habits can be difficult to get into but can also last a lifetime. Some habits that will improve your well-being include:
Meditating Each Morning - Meditation is a way of clearing your mind. If you do it in the morning, before there’s been time for the rest of the world to intrude on your thoughts, you set yourself up for a relaxing and stress-free day.
Taking Frequent Breaks - Striving to improve by over-working will have the opposite effect. Instead, let yourself relax between sessions. You will be more likely to deliver better counseling once the next patient walks through the door. Get into the habit of taking breaks when doing your human services degree; while you should work hard, you should also give yourself sufficient time off when you need it.
Reading Good News - It can be hard to stay positive when you are caught up in the mess of the world. It becomes even harder when you have the weight of your patients’ mental health in your hands, too. Make it a habit of yours to indulge in some good news every day, so you gain a healthier, more balanced perspective.
8. Research Often
Psychology is always being explored in different ways, and as someone who works with mental health patients, you must keep up to date with the latest findings. While not every discovery will impact your work, you will be a better, well-rounded counselor if you know what is going on in the world of psychology.
The chances are you already have a keen interest in psychology, so this part of the job should come easy. Have a look online for websites that public excellent psychology articles, and make a habit of fitting in a morning read with your cup of coffee.
9. Maintain Professionalism
As a counselor, you meet many different types of people, some of which you will bond with. This can be great for both yourself and the patient, as it means there is more trust and openness during the sessions. One thing to make sure of, however, is that you always maintain professionalism. What that means is not letting your patient get too personal with you and making your boundaries known if you feel that is being breached.
Another way you must maintain professionalism is in how you present yourself. By focusing on dressing and speaking professionally, you will gain more respect from co-workers and clients.
10. Have a Great Role Model
One of the best ways to improve your skills is by having someone to look up to. This could be a family member, a teacher, or someone you work with. Nobody is ever perfect, but aspiring to be like someone who excels as a counselor will help you excel yourself.
You can pick up a lot from watching other people work, so make sure you take as many watching opportunities as you can when studying. If you are doing a human services degree, you will meet many like-minded individuals, and each of them will be able to teach you something new.
11. Be Open-Minded
There is no room for closed-mindedness in the world of counseling. After all, you will be counseling many different people, all from different locations, backgrounds, and beliefs. You mustn’t judge a person in any way, as this will affect your practice.
Your open-mindedness will improve if you do a human services degree, as you will learn all about ethics, particularly focusing on minority groups. The more socially aware you are, the better care you will provide to your patients.
12. Listen Intently
From the time you start your human services degree to the moment you sit down with your last patient, your counseling career will be all about listening. This means that to be a great counselor, you must be an excellent listener.
When patients sit opposite you, they expect open ears and an open mind. You can’t sit there and only take in most of what they are saying – you must make it your mission to digest every single word that comes out of their mind and try to understand it.
13. Keep Up Appearances
Being a great counselor goes past the practice door. No matter how professional you are while you are with patients, it will all go down the drain if you don’t keep up that level of professionalism in your daily life.
In order to garner the respect that you need to thrive as a counselor, you should keep up appearances wherever you go. This means being friendly to others, being responsible, and avoiding any public drama. You should start practicing this as soon as you start your human services degree. View yourself as a professional, and you will be more likely to act like it wherever you go.
14. Ask for Feedback
You will have a hard time improving if you don’t know which areas need it. As a counselor, it can be difficult to know when you are doing a good job, so don’t be afraid to ask for feedback.
While not every piece of feedback will dramatically change the way you practice counseling, you might just receive some advice that helps you improve the way you work. Plus, by asking for feedback, you show your clients that you care about their experience and that you’re willing to accommodate their needs.
15. Take Responsibility
As a counselor, there is a lot of responsibility placed on you. While seeing clients, they are in your care, and you are responsible for ensuring their safety while working towards improving their mental health. Sometimes, problems happen. There might come a time when a client doesn’t feel helped. Instead of ignoring this, you should take responsibility by listening to their reasons and provide a solution – even if that solution is a different counselor.
16. Be Honest
The best counselors are those who are open and honest with their patients. While you don’t need to spill about your personal life, your clients will appreciate your humanity.
While it is important to remain professional, a little honesty and realness from time to time helps. It’ll show your clients that you’re not just a worker that they talk to; instead, they’ll see you as a person who is helping them get through their problems. Plus, if you are open with them, they will be more likely to open up to you.
17. Focus on the Patients
In the end, your number one priority is the patients. So, no matter what happens, you should always put them first. Your goal is to help them understand their thought processes and come up with solutions to improve their mental health, so make that your main focus every time a patient steps through the door.
Counseling isn’t always an easy job, but it is a career that allows you to improve other people’s lives. By attaining your human services degree, being open-minded, and focusing on your patients, you can provide the best care possible.