8 Things To Know How to Become a Great Counselor

If you are considering mental health counseling as a career, you can look forward to a high level of need for your services. Employment for mental health counselors and psychologists overall is going to rise rapidly in the next 10 years.

Government employment data reveals that employment for mental health counselors will increase by 20% by 2023. Growth in the mental health field is due to more Americans having access to healthcare services; also, more Americans are living longer lives, and have more need for mental health care services to handle the problems that crop up during a long life.

Becoming a great counselor for your mental health patients is a lifelong endeavor. Great counselors never stop learning or improving. If you want to be a counselor or already are one, below are nine of the most important things to know to become a great counselor.

#1 Enhance Your Microskills

Counseling microskills are five counseling-specific qualities that a great counselor uses to enhance and improve their client communication. These microskills help the counselor to build a strong working rapport with a client so the counseling sessions are more productive. These critical microskills are:

  • Attending behavior: This is a key behavioral way of building rapport with a client. You need to demonstrate that you are interested in working with and helping them. Eye contact and nonverbal responses (such as leaning forward to show interest) are very important to develop strong attending behavior.
  • Questioning: Asking questions during the session will often open new discussion paths that can be very fruitful to resolve problems. Counselors should be well educated on different ways to ask questions, but not to over question when the situation calls for more discretion. Good open ended questions usually start with ‘how,’ ‘why,’ and ‘could.’
  • Confrontation: In counseling confrontation is a skill that means the counselor brings about client awareness of something they may be overlooking or avoiding. Discrepancies that you may need to deal with as a counselor include thoughts and feelings; thoughts and actions; and feelings and actions.
  • Focusing: There are several major types of focusing that counselors can use in the session to bring about possible solutions. These are individual focus (‘tell me about yourself’); problems focus (‘what brings you here today?’); family focus (how problems are affected by close family members); mutuality focus (‘how can we work together?’); and interviewer focus (where you may reveal some information about yourself).
  • Reflections of Meaning: This refers to the deeply held belief systems and meanings that underlie each person’s life experiences. A great counselor is able to use this microskill to help clients to search deeper for answers in their own life experiences.

Improving these vital microskills can definitely enhance your counseling skills.

#2 Constantly Learn

A great counselor has a constant commitment to developing professionally as a counselor. If you do not, you will discover that it is hard to practice effectively with your clients. Counselors who are not trying to constantly learn are demonstrating a lack of commitment. And a lack of commitment will inevitably erode your counseling skills.

To be a great counselor, you should attend regular conferences, CE classes, workshops, and continue to read as much as you can about new ways of providing mental health counseling, based upon cutting edge research.

#3 Improve Your Effectiveness

Great counselors use effectiveness strategies to be better organized and efficient in their client work. In the end, the proper application of effectiveness strategies helps you to improve many professional and personal areas that affect your ability to provide counseling services.

#4 Take Care of Yourself

There are many counselor-related problems that can take their toll on your level of service. These problems can increase your chances of burning out. It is important to understand how burnout and stress can affect you and your work.

When you recognize this, you can devise effective strategies to improve how you take care of yourself and reduce chances of burning out as a counselor. Research shows that finding proper life and work balance can be just as critical to your effectiveness as anything.

#5 Really Understand Clients

Communication with clients requires responsiveness and flexibility above everything else. Clients have very different mindsets and emotional states. Each person and situation often requires a different approach. Your ability to adjust to the needs of each client will usually dictate how well you work with that client.

And working with a particular client may not always be a rosy experience for both parties, but the relationship still may be necessary and productive. Some clients must attend counseling sessions due to a court mandate and may not want to be there. But you as a great counselor still must do your absolute best to ensure that you provide the best service to the client.

#6 Have Flexibility

A great counselor is able to work effectively with vastly different types of counseling clients under specific and different circumstances. As a counselor, you may specialize in marriage counseling, but it is beneficial to have the flexibility to work in other counseling areas.

For example, a marriage counselor can learn valuable new skills in family counseling, addiction counseling and loss and grief counseling. Some of the skills that you learn in one form of counseling can be very important to make you a better counselor in another speciality.

#7 Have Knowledge

There are so many different theoretical models and approaches that are available in counseling today. Each can be used on its own or with others to help different clients.

Having knowledge of the psychological theory behind each approach – along with techniques, applications and benefits – will help you to develop a proper intervention for the client in a unique situation.

For instance, modern research has demonstrated that counseling clients who are addicted to drugs may benefit immensely from motivational interviewing. This is a counseling method where you become a ‘helper’ in the necessary change process and express that you accept your client. Motivational interviewing helps the client to overcome ambivalence about their substance abuse (a very common obstacle to recovery). Motivational interviewing includes the following principles:

  1. Expressing empathy with the substance abuse client through listening reflectively.
  2. Developing a discrepancy between the goals and values of the client, and their current addictive behavior.
  3. Avoiding confrontation and argument.
  4. Adjusting to the resistance from the client, rather than directly opposing it.
  5. Being supportive of optimism and self efficacy.

Other models of counseling that can be very effective in vastly different situations include gestalt therapy, behavioral therapy, narrative therapy, and motivational enhancement therapy.

#8 Network Early and Often

Networking is not just for furthering your own career prospects. It is a vital part of building contacts in the counseling industry that can help you with counseling issues, such as supervision, professional collaboration, and referral.

There always is the opportunity to learn about new methods and strategies from fellow counselors and peers as well.


If you develop your counseling skills by following the above nine principles, you will be well on your way to being a great counselor.