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There are many and varied skills used in a counselling environment and whilst all have equal relevance, I would like to focus on two skills which I feel are particularly important in the development of the counselling relationship. Active listening and the communication of empathy towards a client are individual skills which along with others help to form a basis for development at the onset of a therapeutic relationship. Through the use of relevant literature and some personal observation, I will explore the fundamental requirement of each skill within the counselling relationship, looking at the reasons why I feel they are particularly important and the benefits that can be achieved by the client when these skills are used effectively.

All skills used in a client/helper relationship form part of the contract between the two and must be demonstrated effectively and appropriately so they help to move the relationship forward and obtain the best possible results for the client. To do this the client needs to feel that they are the focus in the process. An ordinary conversation between two people is normally an equal relationship which usually meets the needs of both parties. However, Nelson–Jones’s (1995) opinion is that the client/ helper relationship is different in that the emphasis in counselling conversations is primarily to meet the client’s needs. Active listening is, in my opinion, the starting point for any therapeutic relationship and forms the basis on which to build feelings of trust within the client. Active listening is in reality a combination of specific skills which show the client you are listening. Giving the client your full attention, maintaining eye contact, using good body language and facial expression as well as considering the clients’ non-verbal messages, all help to accurately gather information and understanding of what the client is trying to express. Nelson-Jones (1995) believes that ‘Listening involves not only receiving sounds but as much as possible accurately understanding their meaning’. Body language and facial expression can reveal much about the client and supports the helper to uncover the ‘unspoken’ words in the story the client is trying to tell. Unconscious negative signals from the helper such as fidgeting when someone is talking, indicates a lack of interest. Sitting calmly and conveying a sense of warmth and openness, help to put the client at ease, which in turn helps to build trust; extremely important for the relationship to continue and for clients to progress to experiencing and disclosing feelings. In my experience, a warm and genuine smile is an invitation to get to know someone a little more. Within our learning group I was initially drawn towards the people who immediately conveyed what I would describe as a warm personality. In the first couple of weeks during role play, it was with these people I felt calmer and less embarrassed than with others, who initially had a slightly more reserved demeanour. In my experience, to smile at someone and to receive blank feedback is an unnerving feeling and immediately closes further communication. Once an initial connection has been made between client and helper, accurately understanding what the client is saying, both verbally and non-verbally provides the basis for a greater understanding of the clients motives, emotions and feelings. This process becomes a continuing cycle of awareness both within the client and the helper. Understanding the information correctly enables the helper to give an appropriate response. This is paramount to developing further the tentative beginnings of understanding in both the client and the helper. In my current learning environment, it has been the appropriate responses and positive feedback from my peers and my tutor which has enabled me to have a belief in...
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