Imagine walking into your first mental health counseling session with your new counselor. You feel a little nervous. Will she ask intrusive questions? Will she judge you? Will you even get along? You begin to introduce yourself and share your story. In the middle of your sharing, you look up at her and, to your dismay, she is in the middle of sending a text! She does not even meet your glance, and you immediately feel you should not have come.
This story may sound a bit ridiculous, but it is based on a true story shared by Dr. Jenny Davis-Prefer, our own faculty in the Grace mental health counseling department. In her early years in the counseling field, she saw her older counterparts doing this exact thing. The goal of the Grace mental health counseling program is to equip graduates with skills needed to be exceptional counselors. So what skills are needed for excellent counselors?
According to Dr. Jenny Davis-Prefer, professor of Grace mental health counseling, the first skill that comes to mind is objectivity. Objectivity is when a counselor is able to separate their own experiences, beliefs, values, and expectations from those of the client so that the counselor is not bringing their own issues into their clients’ sessions.
“I believe that the skill of objectivity is developed as counselors consistently engage in doing their own emotional work,” Dr. Davis-Prefer says. “We spend a lot of time talking about objectivity in our program, especially as students move into their final year. At Residency this year, many of my students started using the phrase “it’s a me thing” in discussions as they reflected on how their own background was getting in the way of viewing client issues objectively. The ability to determine what is “a me thing” and put that aside to be objective when working with clients is huge!”
The second skill is the ability to develop and maintain boundaries. According to Dr. Davis Prefer, boundaries are the rules that we set for ourselves, not rules we make for others to control their actions.
“Great counselors need boundaries for their own emotional well-being as well as modeling this skill for clients. Boundaries can help counselors create a healthy work/life balance so they can be emotionally and physically prepared to be objective, empathetic, strategic, and effective in supporting their clients.”
Not only does boundary setting protect counselors, but it also models appropriate behavior for clients. “Modeling this skill shows clients that people have the power to change how they interact with others. By doing this, they can improve their own mental health.” today!
Great counselors are not afraid to be clear with their clients as they determine objectives. According to the National Library of Medicine, clear goal-setting with clients directly correlates with client motivation and treatment success. Therapists should seek goal clarity with patients in order to have the best results.
Imagine showing up to your first day at a new job, but when you get there no one tells you what you are supposed to do. You don’t even know what the company you work for does! You may attempt to sit at your new desk and make some sort of progress, but it would be extremely difficult to even know where to start!
This is a similar feeling a new patient may have when they work with a counselor who never states objectives for each session or overall goals for their time together. According to Research Gate, clients with less clarity struggle to clearly identify and understand their own problematic patterns throughout the counseling process.
The final, but equally important skill, is patience. Every person that walks through the door has their own unique patterns, struggles, and behaviors that will affect the way they interact with their therapist. Some may be willing to open up quickly, while others may take weeks or months to even begin to identify problematic behaviors in their lives.
An exceptional counselor has the ability to remain calm and in control when confronted with delay or resistance. Patience involves realizing that real change can take time. According to Counseling.org, counselors must know that the process can be just as important as the outcome, so they are willing to trust the process rather than trying to push clients who are not ready to move forward.
Patience also involves recognizing that things may not always go as planned, but being at peace with it anyway. It can be easy to become restless when sessions are not moving in the way we hope they will! However, with Grace mental health counseling, we can lean on our faith in Christ as the ultimate One in control. His peace is what gives the confidence and grace needed to sit patiently with each person that sits in your chair.
Interested in pursuing an online degree in mental health counseling? Grace College offers online courses that can help you develop the skills you need to excel in your field and help others. Learn more