Overcoming Barriers to Communication

Barriers to Communication in Counselling

Effective counselling requires good communication but there are potential barriers to communication in counselling such as:

  • lack of understanding of what counselling is
  • personal pride (the potential client feeling it should be possible to sort out their own difficulties)
  • denial/distortion of problems
  • preference for a therapist of a particular gender or background
Overcoming Barriers to Communication in Counselling

Have you ever tried to have a conversation on a crackly mobile phone that’s lost its signal? If so, you’ll know how frustrating that can be! Barriers to communication in counselling can be similarly challenging for clients and counsellors. Here, we identify some barriers to communication in counselling, and look at how to overcome them.

Primary Barriers to Communication in Counselling

Some barriers may prevent any possibility of communication by making the service inaccessible to clients. Examples of these primary barriers to communication in counselling include several factors relating to the mode of communication:

  • If a service (e.g. some NHS services) structure their care in a way that expects clients to try online sessions before being able to have one-to-one sessions, this creates barriers for clients who are not familiar with – or don’t have access to – a computer (e.g. older people who have not encountered computers in their work and do not have one at home).
  • Similarly, an expectation to engage in group sessions may be a barrier for people struggling with social anxiety.
  • Services that require the initial assessment to take place over the phone may prevent clients who are hard of hearing or do not have a private place to receive phone calls from communicating at all.

There are many other primary barriers to communication:

  • race and culture (e.g. some ethnic groups believe that problems should not be shared with people outside the family network)
  • a mental-health condition itself – e.g. people struggling with depression may not have the motivation to undertake online therapy, which depends on having a reasonable level of motivation and self-organisation
  • lack of understanding of what counselling is
  • personal pride (the potential client feeling it should be possible to sort out their own difficulties)
  • denial/distortion of problems
  • preference for a therapist of a particular gender or background
  • disability
  • work patterns
  • bad past experience of therapy
  • transport issues (e.g. reliance on public-transport routes)
  • carer responsibilities
  • age
  • where the person lives (sometimes referred to as the ‘postcode lottery’).

Secondary Barriers to Communication

Assuming, however, that the person has not faced – or has been able to overcome – these barriers, then further potential barriers await clients when they do begin their counselling sessions.

Common secondary barriers to communication include:

  • a noisy environment where it is really difficult to hear (e.g. if roadworks are going on nearby)
  • lack of fluency in speaking and/or understanding the language in which the counselling will be conducted
  • strong regional accents, which can make it difficult for the client or counsellor to understand the other person
  • difficulties with reading and/or writing (which – even in counselling using the spoken word – could affect the client’s ability to understand the counselling contract, complete any homework, e.g. in CBT) etc.)
  • hearing impairments
  • lack of privacy (if the room is not sufficiently soundproofed and/or guaranteed to be free of interruptions)
  • the counsellor or other staff member at the agency being judgemental, off-hand or sarcastic.

Overcoming Barriers to Communication in Counselling

Overcoming Barriers to Communication

Overcoming primary barriers to communication requires a good awareness of equality and diversity.

With this, providers of counselling services will be aware of the wide range of potential barriers, and be open to flexibility in adapting services to meet the needs of their target clients, offering a service that is as adaptable as possible to individual needs instead of offering a ‘one-size-fits-all’ service.

For example, offering a choice of face-to-face, online or telephone counselling can improve potential clients’ ability to access counselling, and so to have the opportunity to communicate with a counsellor.

When it comes to secondary barriers to communication, various things can be helpful, such as:

  • providing easy physical access to buildings (e.g. ramps instead of steps, and lifts if there is more than one floor)
  • installing hearing loops
  • using interpreters or signers
  • ensuring that any literature is available in differing languages
  • soundproofing rooms so that they offer a quiet and confidential environment
  • employing workers who have the right personal qualities, attitudes and skills to help people
  • providing induction training and CPD to further develop staff members’ skills in communicating with clients and potential clients
  • consistently asking for feedback from clients so that the quality of service can be further improved.

Where the barriers to communication are insurmountable, it may be possible to signpost potential clients either to a more suitable service (counselling or otherwise) or to self-help resources.

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Overcoming Barriers to Communication

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