When I read that Basic Counselling Skills (BCS) would be one of the modules in my Professional Certificate [in Psychology] course, I was ecstatic. Here was a subject that I was very excited to begin learning, that I might start gaining experience in some of the basic skills that every counsellor has to have.
However, it turns out that BCS was both simpler and – perhaps paradoxically – more complicated than I had expected. Take, for example, the principle of active listening. While it can be flippantly summed up as “talk less, listen more”, active listening is also the act of wholly focusing on the client.
It is only natural for us as human beings to want to only think and talk about ourselves, but when you’re counselling someone, the spotlight should be on them, not on yourself. When you practice active listening, you show that you accept your client’s feelings in a non-judgmental fashion.
The BCS module also discussed how we can use the idea of SOLER during counselling. As an acronym that encompasses certain key nonverbal behavioural techniques (such as how we should sit Squarely, adopt an Open posture, Lean forward and so on), SOLER is extremely useful for making a client feel relaxed and welcome before you even say a single word. This made me realise exactly where my shortcomings as a counsellor was, and how I could become a better listener.
Perhaps the most important topic that we learnt however was the importance of asking questions. I never knew that there were so many ways of asking a single question, each intended to elicit a certain type of response. From open-ended questions to invite communication, to more narrow-ended questions that are designed to bring out details and specifics, we learnt how important the manner in which a question is asked can be and how much they can change the lives of those around us.
We then got the chance to actually practice some of these skills in the classroom by sharing with each other one of our deepest fears: an idea that initially filled me with trepidation, but as I slowly unburdened myself to my amiable classmate Farhan, I actually began to feel lighter and less stressed. It was amazing how something as simple as just having someone listen to me would make so much of a difference, and it made me really appreciate the practical uses of these skills we were learning.
As part of our coursework, I also had the good fortune to go on a field trip with the rest of my class to Ang Mo Kio Hospital. While it was not my first time volunteering, this particular field trip felt different somehow, as I was actually eager and excited to speak to the patients in the hospital; and I did just that. For the next hour and a half, I sat with Madam Halimah as she spoke about how lonely she felt without her grandchildren, how much she loved art, and speculated on exactly what happened to MH370. The experience was a bittersweet one, but it did make me want to be both a better daughter and a better counsellor at the same time.
Thanks to BCS, I now understand that communication is not just a matter of asking questions and expecting answers. It is an art form in and of itself, a dance that requires deft and delicate manoeuvres involving both verbal and non-verbal communication; and I am glad to be learning it.
Written By: Nur Deena
Binte Mohd Zaheer, student of MDIS School of Psychology