Attending in Counselling
Attending is a counselling skill.
Being attentive means the counsellor is giving the client their full focus, paying attention to what the client is saying, doing, the tone of voice used and body language.
Key aspects of attending:
- Eye contact
- Body language
- Facial expressions
- Tone of voice
Attending – Effective counselling skills
Attending is the first skill a trainee counsellor learns. It is the base that other skills can be built on and used.
Good attending will show the client that they are respected and encourage them to talk about their thoughts and feelings.
It also shows they are being listened to and taken seriously.
There are several key elements in attending. These are:
- Eye Contact: Looking directly at someone demonstrates they have your full attention and you are listening to them. Be thoughtful not to stare intently, as this can make a person feel uncomfortable. Just be natural and yourself. Be mindful that in some cultures eye contact can be seen as disrespectful.
- Body language: Be considerate of your posture. Being relaxed is a great way to invite someone to talk about themselves! Leaning slightly forward in the chair demonstrates that you are giving your full attention, actively listening to what your client is saying.
- Gestures: You communicate so much in your body movements. For example, sitting with your arms and legs crossed, hunched up, can give the impression that you have put a barrier up and are not listening or interested. Waving your arms about can also be very distracting.
- Facial Expressions: A good listener will be thoughtful of their facial expressions. Frowning or raising eyebrows can transmit revulsion or judgment which may shut the client down, while smiling at appropriate times demonstrates human warmth which helps build trust and develops rapport.
- How you speak: Attending is not all about listening; sometimes you may need to ask clarifying questions or paraphrase back what the client has said. When you respond, be thoughtful and precise in the words you use. Try to avoid any misunderstanding or confusion.
When using the skill of attending it is useful to remember: ‘We have one mouth and two ears so we can listen twice as much as we speak’.
How to Attend
To begin and maintain attendance in counselling, a counsellor must first welcome the client warmly, making him/her feel comfortable in the counselling environment.
This will make the client feel more relaxed about disclosing personal information about their emotions, feelings and thoughts.
By maintaining eye contact with the client, a counsellor shows they value what the client has to say.
Looking at the client, as they speak, also shows the counsellor is respectful.
A counsellor should also be aware of the tone of their voice during the time in the client’s presence.
Slowing down speech will make the client feel more relaxed and less rushed.
It will convey that the counsellor has adequate time to listen to the client’s problems and concerns.
The counsellor’s facial expressions must also convey interest and comprehension.
Tracking, or following the flow of what the client is saying, is a key skill that the counsellor must also be confident demonstrating.
Without the ability to do this, a counsellor will not be able to provide the level of supportive service a counselling client requires.
"Attending is the base that other skills can be built on and used."
If attending is not present
Failure to attend correctly may mean the client feels they are not being supported fully, and may not feel able to disclose or make progress.
Attending also means a counsellor must pay attention to everything a client says and does.
This includes reading the client’s body language and also taking into consideration all the silences and pauses in the conversation.
Actively listening not only conveys information, but also encourages the client to continue talking.
Why attending is an Important counselling skill
Smaby and Maddux (2011) suggest that attending is a form of social proofing, allowing the client (or the helpee) to assess if the person in front of them is ready and able to help them.
“After all, helpees do not know you as well as your friends and acquaintances do. In early sessions, they will be 'sizing you up,' and they need proof that you are paying attention.
This proof is especially important because helpees have made themselves somewhat vulnerable by admitting that they need assistance. This vulnerability is very likely to produce some anxiety for helpees, and they need to be sure that they have your interest and support, which certainly cannot come unless you are paying attention to what they are telling you.
For all these reasons, you must intentionally communicate that you are attending and that your attention comes 'without any strings'...”
Smaby, M. and Maddux, C. (2011). Basic and advanced counseling skills. Belmont, Calif.: Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning. (p37)