To truly reflect what another person is saying and feeling, we have to mentally insert ourselves into their world. This means being able to put our own self to the side and consider a viewpoint that is not our own. Counselors cultivate empathy using much the same method as actors. Counselors imagine what it would be like to think, feel, behave, and experience the physiological symptoms of their clients. This internal imaginal experience involves all our senses and interoceptive systems. Cultivating accurate empathy through reflective listening ensures that the direction of the counseling will be deeply useful to the client. The direction of each counseling session is called the contract. It is this essential step that prevents the counseling from seeming to circle around and around, going nowhere.
When asked “What is it that you would like to address in counseling today?” most clients will present what is most prominent to them. Just as the mirrored surface of a lake does not immediately reveal the life below, the surface reasons people bring to counseling often do not represent the unconscious core concerns that drive them to repeat uncomfortable behavior patterns throughout their lives. Clients often identify a change that they want in the world or in other people, rather than in themselves. Counselors look beneath that surface. They propose a contract for change to the client that identifies a broader personal change that may not have immediately come to the client’s mind. The Contract question is an influencing microskill consisting of two elements; asking the client what would be most helpful, and tentatively offering a speculation of what that might be. This starts the collaborative discussion and the work of the session.
This week will focus on reflective listening and on developing the contract for change. This discussion requires Theravue practice of three microskills: Reflection of Content, Reflection of Feeling, and Contract Question. The first two are key foundational building blocks of reflective listening. The Contract question is an influencing microskill consisting of two elements; asking the client what would be most helpful, and tentatively offering a speculation of what that might be.
Counseling requires mindful use of conversational skills. With practice counseling students bridge the gap from unconscious to conscious use of their communication. You have experienced reading about counseling skills, watching faculty demonstrate them, and have already taken your first steps in saying them out loud. In this discussion with classmates you reflect upon and share your experience of verbalizing counseling skills in a way that mimics real life responding to clients.
Share the results of your self-reflections with your classmates. Include the following six areas (be specific):
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