COUN 6100A: Introduction to Mental Health Counseling-Upgrade “Counseling Characteristics”
NARRATOR: Norm Dasenbrook, Dr. Gail Mears, and Bob Walsh talk about the skills and competencies needed to become successful mental health counselors.
GAIL MEARS: That’s really exciting to look at all the different ways in which we, as counselors, can practice our skills and our art. We have some unique training. I think that allows us to do a wide variety of things.
What do you see as sort of the characteristics of effective counselors? What do counselors need to have in order to be effective?
BOB WALSH: Well, everybody that I know that’s in this profession is a helping person. Generally they, as a kid or as a young adult, had their friends come to them. Or in the dorm, people stopped by their room. And they just found that they were gratified to be able to give some help to people. With training then, that same set of skills makes one a counselor.
The thing that I really have to pay attention to though is that there are some times when counselors, who are helping professionals, may be a little bit too emotionally involved. And the idea of co-dependence is something that, in training programs, has to be checked. Because if somebody wants to not really help their client get better– I mean my whole purpose is to do as I did as a parent, to make sure that these people move on. And they don’t need to see me anymore. It’s a good day when I shake their hand and say, you know, you’re going to be fine.
GAIL MEARS: So being empathic and having sort of boundaries around how involved you get. What else, Norm, do you think is important for a counselor?
NORM DASENBROOK: I think, fundamentally, Bob’s empathy statement is very powerful. I think too the ability that counselors have to have people or systems feel understood. I think there is a basic human need for feeling understood, feeling that somebody is listening to me, and somebody is doing that and is taking me seriously and is genuine about trying to seek that level of understanding. To me that’s a foundation of counseling is counselors seek to understand their clients, clients are understanding themselves, right?
And you also see that with systems, whether that be governmental, whether that be agency. The more we seek to understand and have people explain their situations, their dilemmas, they’re listening to themselves. And counselors create that environment.
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And that’s not only important in a clinical setting. But it could be in a business setting. It could be in a system setting that as we try to make systems more healthy, for whether that be counselors or business or architects or whatever it may be, counselors have that skill set to go in and try to have that empathy and that understanding that communicates that we care and provides that venue for people to discover themselves as well.
GAIL MEARS: What both of you are saying reminds me of the importance for me, as a counselor, to be self-aware, to really know what my own issues are so that I don’t get over-involved. Or I know what my personal boundaries are. And I’m wondering what your sense is of the importance of being aware of yourself and your own stuff.
BOB WALSH: Well, most of the clients that I see are people who are successful problem solvers. They know how to get through life. They’ve gotten through life to a certain extent without problems.
But people come up against issues, either interpersonal issues or work issues, school issues. And what counselors do is they encourage. The person who’s making mistakes in relationship communications, in school, usually they’re just discouraged. And the encouragement process is something I think that’s very important.
We have to be encouraging people. And we have to have enthusiasm to be able to go in and say, look, I believe in you. And you can believe in yourself. Look at your skills. Look at your assets and strengths.
GAIL MEARS: So that’s having faith in the people that you’re working with rather than seeing yourself as the person who’s going to be the healer.
BOB WALSH: I think that a good agency will hire people with diverse niches so that somebody who’s on staff would work with maybe somebody who has eating disorders, people who are certified hypnotherapists, people who are certified alcoholism and drug counselors, which is a niche that I stay out of. I just refer somebody to one of those people who are the specialists in that area.
GAIL MEARS: Sounds like you’re, in some ways, talking about the need to be collaborative.
BOB WALSH: Yes.
GAIL MEARS: That, as a counselor, I can’t do it all.
BOB WALSH: I think that you have to be a diverse person. I work with some professionals, they just do counseling. And they’re working 40 hours.
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You have to also have some avocation too. I think that being too serious in this profession is not good. Bringing some humor into the situation– and another thing is to not be arrogant.
The arrogance that we see sometimes, when I worked in the school, of an outside professional really turned the teachers off. So sort of self-examination that you’re not trying to be better than anybody else. And I do that with my clients.
I’m Bob, Bob Walsh. Not Doctor, not The Wizard of Oz. Just a person who’s going to help them to see themselves in the best way possible.
GAIL MEARS: So sounds like some of those good relational skills that you use as a counselor serve you well as a collaborator.
BOB WALSH: Yes.
NORM DASENBROOK: I think the team concept is a great concept, whether you’re in an agency or private practice or a school, of who else comes in contact with the client, the family, the system that I’m working with. And can we work collaboratively together? And I think 9 times out of 10, the answer to that question is yes.
Somebody needs to take that first step. And maybe that needs to be the counselor.
GAIL MEARS: So sounds like, as counselors, we can work in a wide variety of settings. And yet it’s important for us to know what our competencies are, what we’re good at, what we’re not good at, and to use our people skills to collaborate effectively with other people to help our clients.
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