What do you think of when you hear the word “counseling?” Do you think about how you advise your patients, or maybe picture a psychologist listening to a patient laying on a couch?
Instead, imagine using counseling skills as a set of simple yet effective interpersonal communication strategies that you can integrate into nearly any interaction with patients and families.
Categories of Counseling Skills
Basic counseling skills boil down to simple interpersonal strategies within five categories of interactions:
Self-awareness – Know yourself and your reactions to different patients and clinical situations. Self-awareness allows us to tackle all of the other counseling skills.
Attending – Have the ability to acknowledge the unique experience and perspective of the patient to help establish trust and rapport.
Gathering information – Be able to gather relevant and deep information from the patient and integrating that information into your assessment and treatment approach.
Providing information – Be able to use multiple modalities to relay information in a way that is suited to your patient’s background and abilities to maximize comprehension. (Patient education like assignable videos and handouts can help.)
Promoting change – Successfully navigate difficult situations, like patients who are angry, tearful or reluctant, to build the clinical relationship and promote improvement.
These skills can yield big returns, both for yourself, and most importantly, your patients as you work together. They can make for more satisfying clinical interactions, increase your patient’s engagement, and support better outcomes.
Ready for more? Take the next step and jump directly to Rebecca’s course, Building Counseling Skills: Active Listening, Empathy, and Gathering Information.
Benefits to Using Counseling Skills
Here are five benefits of using basic counseling skills in our everyday practice:
- Establish trust and rapport – The more your patient trusts you, the more likely they will be to adhere to your advice.
- Understand needs, perspectives, and goals – Successful outcomes are most often achieved when they incorporate the specific priorities and points-of-view of the patient and family.
- Adapt how you relay and clarify information – Patients are often confused about the “whats” and “whys” central to our practice and their treatment plan. Their improvement often depends on their full understanding as well.
- Evaluate and fit clinical tools to the patient – We have many techniques and tools at our disposal – and these tools are most effective when adapted to the individual patient. It’s often useful to simultaneously identify and address multicultural factors too.
- Recognize and address barriers – Sometimes we’re mystified about why our approach isn’t working. Once we gather information about the barriers and identify what we can do to overcome them, we better our chances of success or realize we need to enlist a colleague’s expertise.
As a clinician, your time is limited. You don’t have extra minutes to spend on another approach. Counseling skills can be integrated into what you are already doing, regardless of patient or clinical context – kind of like an overarching upgrade to the way you are communicating with your patients. In turn, these simple upgrades can yield greater information, increased patient engagement, and promote better outcomes for your caseload.