In previous chapters, some fundamental questions were asked about the theory and practice of counseling. Ultimately, though, counseling is an activity carried out by people. Theoretical insights or research findings can only be expressed through the behaviour of counselors. The aim of this chapter is to explore the skills and qualities associated with effective counseling. Much attention has been given in the counseling and psychotherapy literature to the notion of counseling skills. Writers such as Ivey, Carkhuff and Egan (see Larson 1984) have attempted to identify a set of core skills that are necessary for effective counseling, and that can be acquired through systematic training. Ivey, for example, has broken down the work of the counselor into a set of microskills. There are, however, serious limitations to the concept of skill in the context of understanding the activities of counselors and psychotherapists. The idea of ‘skill’ was first developed to make sense of fairly simple, short timescale, observable sequences of behaviour in workers performing simple manual tasks: for example, on an assembly line. The aim of an analysis of skilled performance is to break down the actions of a person into simple sequences that can be learned and mastered in isolation from each other. This approach can be seen in the Ivey model. It can be argued that this way of looking at the task of the counselor is inappropriate, for three reasons. The first is that many of the essential abilities of the counselor refer to internal, unobservable processes. For example, a good counselor is someone who is aware of how she feels in the presence of the client, or who anticipates the future consequences in the family system of an intervention that she plans to initiate with a client. Neither of these counselor actions is easily understood in terms of observable skills. The second problem of the skills approach lies in the fact that it would appear that one of the...
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