The three general phases of counseling are 1) To establish a working relationship; 2) To explore the client’s concerns in depth; and 3) To explore solutions with the client. These phases should evolve in order.
1) Establishing and Building a Relationship
The first step is to introduce yourself to the client and make him or her feel as comfortable as possible. This can be done with starting with a little bit of small talk, like “Did you have any trouble finding the office?”. Then you should ask them what it is that they want to talk about. If they are not sure then you can guide them with certain prompts like “Has anything happened recently to upset you?” or “What issues are concerning you right now?”
It is also important to “sell yourself” in a sense, by making sure that the client feels that you are trustworthy person who is easy to talk to. This means staying calm, even if they say something shocking. It also means talking to the client on their own level without coming off as condescending or judgmental. Ensuring the client that everything he or she says is confidential can also help to establish a level of trust and openness.
2) Exploring The Client’s Concerns In Depth
It is important to find out as much about the patient and his or her concerns as possible before forming and opinion, making a diagnosis or coming up with a solution. This means asking a lot of probing questions and getting the client to open up as much as possible. It is critical to not only find out the facts but also their feelings, their relationships with other people, especially family, the state of their life and the state of their emotions.
For example if a client is getting a divorce and says they are depressed, the counselor should not automatically jump to the conclusion that the divorce is what is causing the depression. The counselor needs to find out if the client has a history of depression, if they are on any medications, if anything else important is going on their life, their religious beliefs about divorce, how their children are treating them during the divorce and so on.
When finding out all of this information, the counselor must not be judgmental and must also be empathetic as opposed to sympathetic. In other words, they should not feel sorry for the client and end up making them feel sorry for themselves. Instead, they should try to relate to the client on their own level and let them know that they understand what they are going through.
3) Exploring Alternative Solutions
The first step in exploring alternative solutions is to ask the client if they have come up with any ways to solve the problem themselves. This encourages them to thing about their problems as something that can be solved. It also opens the floor for the counselor to make suggestions as to how certain solutions could be adjusted to better serve them, or also to suggest solutions that the client may not have thought of on their own. This is not to be done however in the form of giving advice, but rather as if the client and the counselor are working together as a team.