Who Is A Good Counsellor?
When you decide to visit a counsellor or when you think of the qualities that make a good counsellor, what are the things that you would take into consideration? His/her certification? Theoretical orientation? Experience? If you do, you are with most others who do the same. However, these parameters will only help you decide on a counsellor. What next? On what basis will you decide whether the counsellor you have finally chosen is the right counsellor? For most of us, it is how the session feels and how we feel about the counsellor at the end of the first session. If we feel that we have benefited, we return to them. If not, we don’t.
However, according to Carl Rogers, a pioneer of Humanistic Psychotherapy (often called the Third Wave of Psychotherapy), there are 3 distinct qualities of any counsellor, irrespective of his/her theoretical orientation, or certification, or experience, that differentiates him/her from an ineffective counsellor – Congruence, Unconditional Positive Regard and Empathic Understanding.
1. Congruence – Have you ever found yourself in a meeting where you are irritated with someone but you do not say anything and pretend to be interested in the conversation? Well, Rogers would say that you are being incongruent. Simply put, congruence is when you are in touch with your inner-self, your emotions and your actions are in sync with that inner-self. A good counsellor, therefore, while in a session with you, will say things that he/she actually feels. This means that if there are times when the counsellor feels irritated with the client, s/he will do so. However, this is easier said than done. It is very easy to simply say what one is feeling. However, it is not easy to say it in a manner that will ensure that the client is not hurt or insulted (or further discouraged to share).
2. Unconditional Positive Regard – Rogers believed that one of the biggest problems in our society is that our primary caregivers (mostly our parents) make us believe that positive regard can only come when we satisfy their conditions. When positive regard becomes conditional, it lays the foundation to insecurity, low self-esteem and all sorts of other issues. That is why, a good counsellor is one who, regardless of what the client says in the therapy session, provides positive regard to the client and thereby helps the client to feel truly understood and accepted. Once again, this is easy to be taken at face value and, therefore, misunderstood. This does not mean that the counsellor will appreciate a thief for stealing or a murderer for murdering. A good counsellor will accept the person that the client is, while not necessarily accepting the acts that the person has committed.
3. Empathic Understanding – It is often said that we listen not with an intention to understand but with an intention to respond. A good counsellor will always try his/her best to be fully present with you, while you try to share your deepest concerns. Rogers used the term “Internal Frame of Reference” and a good counsellor will be able to perceive the client’s story from his/her internal frame of reference.
Of course, the counsellor’s experience, training, supervision, etc., will play a crucial role, but there is enough research to prove that if these three skills are not present in a counsellor, even the most qualified counsellor might fail to help a client. When a counsellor makes good use of the three skills, the client will automatically begin to see the difference and start trusting the counsellor. A counsellor who believes in these skills will also be a more egalitarian counsellor and will work with you and not on you.