ESTABLISHING RELATIONSHIP AND EXPLORING
Target 1 is all about building foundations and creating a solid base on which the counseling relationship can develop. Target 1 involves using the related microskills to build the relationship with the counselee. This is the main task of the early phase of counseling. Consider your own life experiences and the people with whom you have chosen to confide over the years. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we rarely sit down with a stranger and reveal our deepest and darkest secrets before testing the waters to see whether we feel safe, heard and understood. Just because you may hold a formal position as “counselor” does not mean that you are, or should be, automatically endowed with trust by the counselee. No matter the context or the prior relationship, all counselors must earn the honor of hearing the depths of another’s story for each individual counselee and earn the privilege of speaking into another’s story. A counselor earns this honor and privilege by listening well, being respectful of the counselee’s story and not rushing the counseling process by jumping to advice giving or confronting.
The foundational microskills that are aimed for in target 1 are typically called the facilitative conditions in the counseling literature. These conditions were first discussed by Carl Rogers (1957/1992). His initial description included six necessary and sufficient conditions for personality change to occur in the counseling relationship (see sidebar “The Facilitative Conditions”). Three of these relate to specific microskills. These skills all work to establish the counseling relationship and begin exploration with the counselee. Each of these three skills-based
conditions can be found within the brief descriptions below, but all will be directly or indirectly expanded on in separate chapters to follow.
Use of the first two skills that are given special attention when aiming for target 1 do not require you as the counselor to say a word. Instead they rely on your powers of observation of both the counselee and yourself as the counselor.
Perceiving (chapter three). How we take in the messages sent by the counselee, whether verbal or nonverbal, is what we mean by perceiving. We begin with perceiving because you cannot, as a counselor, know what you are responding to if you have not first perceived it! Perceiving is a skill because we do not always accurately notice the other and sometimes do not even “see” the person in front of us. This skill involves learning to make observations and being aware of not only what the counselee is saying but what he may be showing you or telling you by means of his facial expressions and body language, or in the delivery of his words. The skill of perceiving is about listening, watching and feeling what the counselee shares with you.
Attending (chapter four).
Just as we use perceiving to take in the verbal and nonverbal messages of the counselee, in attending we learn to pay attention to the
nonverbal messages we may either consciously or inadvertently be conveying to the counselee. In other words, we attempt to see ourselves through the counselee’s eyes in regard to our own nonverbal messages. These nonverbal messages are communicated through specific attending behaviors that, among other things, include our facial expressions, body language, tone of voice and use of space. While attending is primarily behavioral, that is, focused on specific behaviors exhibited by the counselor, there is also a self-reflective element to attending, because behaviors ultimately reflect the internal world of the counselor. Therefore, self-awareness of our own values, beliefs and attitudes about the counselee and the counselee’s situation is essential in order that we may genuinely and respectfully interact with the counselee both verbally and nonverbally.
The purpose of the target 1 reflecting skills is to allow you, as the counselor, to gather all the information that is needed in order to understand the counselee’s situation from the counselee’s perspective. These skills elicit from the counselee information enabling them to “put their cards on the table.” This helps with the exploration aspect of target 1.
The process of exploring, the second focus of target 1, is built on three key reflecting skills: Reflecting content, reflecting feeling and empathic reflection. These are called reflecting skills because the words of the counselor function like a mirror, reflecting back to the counselee what was said without adding to, subtracting from or interpreting the counselee’s message.
With reflecting skills we are still in the early phase of counseling, at the top of the hourglass, the widest and most general part of a counselee’s story. Each reflecting skill will help move us further down into that hourglass. Reflecting content is the most impersonal and surface-level reflection, as it is focused solely on the facts of the counselee’s story. Reflecting feeling moves a step further into the hourglass, engaging the surface emotions of the counselee’s story. Empathic reflection then connects the counselee’s feelings with the content of her story, going a step further into the hourglass. If target 1 skills have been used well, the counselor and the counselee should have a pretty good sense of what the focus of the counseling conversation, and relationship, is going to be. In terms of the counseling process, at this point the early phase of counseling will be drawing to a close, and the counselee and counselor will be moving into the middle phase.
Each reflecting skill is unique and important in its own way and serves a critical purpose in the counseling process. You are likely to find that you have a natural preference or aptitude toward one of these reflecting skills and may therefore
struggle with another. That is completely normal and can often help inform you of the theoretical orientation and approach to change strategies that you are most likely to employ when working with counselees. Nevertheless, every counselor must work on developing increased facility and aptitude with each reflecting skill in order to truly serve and benefit his counselees.
Reflecting content (chapter five). Reflecting content is the first of three reflecting skills that you will be specifically aiming for in target 1. In reflecting content, the counselor is listening for the facts of the counselee’s story and summarizing them back to the counselee. In this way, the counselor assures the counselee that the facts, or content, of her story are understood.
Reflecting feeling (chapter six). The microskill of reflecting feeling involves going deeper into the counselee’s story and hearing the emotional messages that the counselee is directly or indirectly communicating.
Empathic reflection (chapter seven). This final skill related to target 1 goes even deeper into the counselee’s story as the counselor summarizes for the counselee how the content and feelings in his story appear to be connected. In each of these three reflecting skills...