Summarising is a counselling skill used to condense, or crystallise, the main points of what the client is saying and feeling.
When summarising, the counsellor is "reflecting back", the main points of the session so that the client has opportunity to recap.
Using Summaries is different to using paraphrasing as a summery usually cover a longer time period than a paraphrase.
A summary may be used after some time: perhaps halfway through a counselling session, or near the end of a counselling session.
The summary 'sums up' the main themes that are emerging.
Summaries are useful for:
- Clarifying emotions for both the helper/counsellor and the client.
- Reviewing the work done so far, and to take stock.
- Bringing a session to a close, by drawing together the main threads of the discussion.
- Beginning a subsequent session, if appropriate.
- Starting the process of focusing and prioritising 'scattered' thoughts and feelings
- Moving the counselling process forward.
How do you feel when someone has clearly listened and understood you?
Summarising a Counselling Session
Kelly (2017) outlines how important the skill of summarising is, as a way of respectfully bringing the session to a close, while giving the client an opportunity to correct any misconceptions the counsellor may have.
It is worth noting how Kelly uses the term 'a neat package' as a metaphor to indicate the client leaves feeling understood and 'heard'.
In the passage below, Kelly indicates that summarising is usually used towards the end of the therapeutic hour. We can see how to apply the skill in the context of closing the session:
"How about 'Tailing'? About five or ten minutes before the end of the session, it's important to let the client know that the time is coming to an end, so they have time to 'pack up'. It allows them to 'change gear' and gives you, as the practitioner, the chance to close everything up before they leave, making sure they're safe to 're-enter the world'.
It can be useful to summarise what has been brought to give the client a 'neat package' that they can go away with, feeling understood because the summary matches their material. Equally, the summary is an opportunity for the client to say, 'No, it's not like that; it's like this.' This too is great for the counsellor, because it allows you to realign where you are and be fully within the client's frame of reference."
Kelly, K. (2017). Basic counselling skills. Warrington: Counselling Tutor, p.10.