Counseling Skills Training

The genesis of counseling skills training can be traced back to the year 1966, marking a pivotal moment in the evolution of pedagogical approaches to teaching the art of effective interviewing. This pioneering spirit led to the establishment of the microcounseling training approach, characterized by its precise focus on honing specific counseling skills. This journey culminated in 1968 with the publication of a seminal monograph within the Journal of Counseling Psychology, laying the foundation for a novel instructional paradigm.

Over the years, the microcounseling approach has grown to be the gold standard for imparting counseling, interviewing, and psychotherapy skills. Its influence has been profound, underscored by the examination of its efficacy through over 450 data-driven studies. The collective findings of meta-analyses have affirmed the potency of microcounseling in effectively teaching an array of essential helping skills to diverse populations.

An illustrious span of four decades has been dedicated to research and theoretical exploration, showcasing the intrinsic value of microcounseling as an educational cornerstone for the training of counselors and therapists. This metamorphosis has witnessed the transformation of microcounseling from a narrow training approach into a comprehensive, all-encompassing framework. Within this framework, the training process seamlessly converges with the therapeutic endeavor, transcending the boundaries that might traditionally separate them. Instead, they form integral components of a holistic narrative aimed at empowering individuals to lead lives imbued with intentionality, effectiveness, and positivity.

Thus, the evolution of microcounseling stands as a testament to its enduring significance, not merely as a teaching methodology, but as a profound philosophy that illuminates the dimensions of therapy, communication, and personal growth.

Origins and Development of Skills

The inception of the counseling skills paradigm is exemplified by the intriguing genesis of microskills, a pivotal moment that embodies the fusion of theory and practical application. In 1966, the realm of video was a new and uncharted territory within the helping profession. Within this innovative landscape, Allen Ivey and Weston Morrill embarked on a unique experiment. They enlisted a volunteer “counselor trainee” to engage in a videotaped interview, unraveling the potential of this nascent medium. Serendipitously, the trainee’s lack of efficacy unveiled a profound revelation upon review. The video analysis highlighted four conspicuous deficits: a lack of eye contact, nervous hand and leg movements, a tense vocal tone, and the inadvertent shift towards self-disclosure. These four negative attributes were juxtaposed against their affirmative counterparts, birthing the concept of “attending behavior.” This coinage subsequently became an integral part of the vocabulary of the helping profession. The trainee, equipped with feedback, subsequently transformed her approach, leading to a dramatically improved session. The ripple effect of this transformation extended beyond the counseling room, as the trainee’s personal life also reaped the benefits of enhanced interpersonal skills.

The subsequent unveiling of the skill of reflection of feeling, followed by an array of listening and influencing skills, catalyzed the advent of social skills training. The significance of these skills transcended the realm of counseling, permeating fields like management, nutrition, medical interviewing, and myriad other forms of counseling. Between 1968 and 1970, Ivey’s groundbreaking demonstration illustrated the effectiveness of teaching fundamental communication skills to patients in VA hospitals. Patients who had been institutionalized for extended periods were equipped with the tools of communication and were successfully reintegrated into the community without further therapy.

Each microcounseling skill is meticulously conveyed through instruction, followed by deliberate practice with feedback, culminating in the transition to real-world application. Central to this entire process is the articulation of behavioral skills that are observable, quantifiable, and yield predictable results in the behaviors of clients. B. F. Skinner lauded the microcounseling approach for its embodiment of reinforcement patterns in the counseling and therapy process, while those inclined toward humanistic orientations raised concerns about the method’s scientific underpinnings.

The subsequent decade witnessed an influx of contributions that expanded the repertoire of skills. By the mid-1970s, a comprehensive Microskills Hierarchy emerged, founded upon ethical considerations, multicultural awareness, and holistic well-being. This hierarchy was built layer by layer: starting with attending behavior skills, followed by the rudiments of the listening sequence, advancing through the five stages of interviewing, and culminating in influencing skills. The intricate structure of the Hierarchy, represented visually in Figure 1, stands as a testament to years of clinical pedagogy and research, a culmination of insights and experiences that continue to shape the landscape of counseling and therapy.

Predicting Results From Intentional Use of Interviewing Skills

Seasoned counselors adept at utilizing questioning skills possess the uncanny ability to forecast the nature of their clients’ forthcoming responses. Nevertheless, novice trainees are encouraged to exhibit flexibility and adaptability, prepared to pivot to alternative skills should their current approach fail to yield the anticipated outcomes. The subsequent sections illuminate this intentional prediction concept with two illustrative skills.

Open and Closed Questions

Open questions, initiated by the likes of who, what, when, where, and why, beckon for expansive responses. On the other hand, closed questions may initiate with the likes of do, is, or are, demanding concise answers. Questions instigated by could, can, or would are indeed open-ended, yet they subtly impose constraints by permitting clients to easily evade answering.

Invariably, open questions are forecasted to evoke detailed elaboration from clients, prompting them to delve into their narratives. Conversely, closed questions procure specific details but inadvertently discourage elaborate client engagement. Proficient questioning fosters more focused and relevant dialogues, replete with significant particulars and minimal tangents. Of course, the counselor must be cautious not to wield excessive control, inadvertently steering the session off course.

Reflection of Feeling

Reflection of feeling entails the interviewer’s astute identification of a client’s core emotions, subsequently parlayed back to the client to illuminate and spotlight their emotional experience. When dealing with reticent clients or children, a concise acknowledgment of emotions may supplant intricate explorations of complex feelings, as probing into emotions can occasionally trigger discomfort.

In essence, the anticipated outcome revolves around clients achieving heightened clarity concerning their emotional states. In the event that the counselor’s reflection falls short of accuracy, clients are predicted to rectify the misconception, providing a more precise description of their emotional states. This reflective process catalyzes a refined understanding of emotions, ultimately steering the counseling interaction toward greater accuracy and resonance.

Stages of Interview

Embedded within the microskills hierarchy lies a meticulously designed framework delineating five distinct phases of the interview process, strategically oriented towards accomplishing goals and yielding outcomes. In this orchestrated sequence, practitioners are tasked with executing the following steps:

  1. Session Initiation: The initial stage revolves around establishing rapport, cultivating a sense of trust, and structuring the session to elucidate the counseling or therapy trajectory for clients. It is imperative that clients gain clarity about what to anticipate during their engagement in the counseling process.
  2. Data Collection: This phase entails elucidating the underlying problem and unraveling client strengths by unearthing narratives, concerns, dilemmas, or issues that underpin their situation. This stage provides a comprehensive foundation for subsequent interventions.
  3. Mutual Goal Setting: Determining the client’s aspirations and desired outcomes takes center stage in this phase. Collaboratively defining the objectives paves the way for a client-driven counseling journey, ensuring alignment with their aspirations.
  4. Exploration and Transformation: At this juncture, the process transitions towards probing into contradictions, untangling internal conflicts, generating diverse alternatives for resolution, and assisting clients in constructing novel cognitive, emotional, or behavioral paradigms.
  5. Generalization and Termination Planning: Concluding the counseling interviews encompasses plotting a roadmap for the assimilation of acquired insights into clients’ everyday lives, ensuring the continuity of progress beyond the counseling environment. Additionally, considerations for the eventual cessation of the counseling relationship come into play.

While these five stages can proceed in a linear sequence, exceptions arise, particularly within distinct counseling contexts. Decisional or career counseling, for instance, might require sequential adherence, whereas variances emerge when different therapeutic theories dictate skill prioritization. Brief counseling prioritizes prompt goal setting and emphasizes generalization throughout the session. Conversely, a traditional psychoanalytic approach dedicates significant session time to the exploration of concerns while relegating goal establishment to a secondary role.

Theoretical disparities also manifest in the choice and application of skills. Brief counselors lean towards employing questions for efficiency, while practitioners aligned with the client-centered paradigm minimize queries, favoring techniques such as reflecting feelings, paraphrasing, and summarization to foster a conducive client-focused environment.

The Multicultural Connection

In 1972, a pivotal observation made by Ivey shed light on the distinctive eye contact and body language exhibited by Alaskan Natives. This revelation marked a turning point in the evolution of counseling, igniting the recognition that cultural nuances shape interpersonal dynamics. An intriguing revelation emerged from this observation—many Alaskan Natives viewed direct eye contact as an intrusion, an audacious breach of personal boundaries that could inadvertently ignite confrontations. The significance of this cultural insight reverberated and took root.

By 1974, Ivey and Norma Gluckstern advocated an essential paradigm shift in counseling—an imperative to embrace diverse approaches and styles tailored to the cultural tapestry of clients. A burgeoning awareness unfolded, extending beyond Alaskan Natives to encompass the distinctive cultural fabrics of Aboriginal Australians, African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinas and Latinos, First Nation and Native Americans, and myriad other groups that comprise the rich mosaic of humanity.

The trajectory of multicultural awareness spiraled further, embarking on an odyssey that encompassed not only ethnicity but also gender, sexual orientation, social class, and an array of other pivotal factors. Multiculturalism metamorphosed into an all-encompassing tapestry that encapsulated the intricate interplay of myriad identities.

As the years advanced, the beacon of multicultural awareness radiated brighter. The infusion of microskill training and theories into multicultural courses has flourished, serving as an invaluable compass for students navigating the labyrinth of counseling. Armed with this enriched understanding, students are empowered to navigate the intricate terrain of individuality and cultural diversity, attuned to the intricacies that mandate careful consideration within the realm of counseling.

The journey continues, propelled by the ethos of understanding, respect, and sensitivity. The counseling landscape has transformed into an expansive arena where the unity of microskills and multiculturalism converges, enhancing the capacity to tailor interventions and forge meaningful connections that honor the kaleidoscopic dimensions of human existence.

Adaptations of the Microskills Model

The landscape of microcounseling skills has blossomed with an array of adaptations, breathing fresh perspectives into the original approach. Among these transformative shifts, Gerard Egan stands as a luminary figure, harmonizing the tapestry of listening microskills with Carkhuff’s revered model of aiding individuals. This symbiotic fusion heralded a new era of comprehensive guidance, a marriage of empathetic listening with a time-honored helping framework.

In parallel, the luminous Clara Hill emerged, weaving her profound insights into the very fabric of the microskills paradigm. Her pioneering work culminated in the Hill Taxonomy, an innovative offspring of the initial Ivey Taxonomy of microskills. Crafted through a symphony of meticulous research and her unique interpretation of the Egan interview structure, the Hill Taxonomy breathed new life into the microcounseling landscape.

The language and instructional ethos inherent in the micro-counseling model have permeated the profession, becoming an indelible mark upon the canvas of counseling pedagogy. Regrettably, the profound cultural sensitivity inherent in microcounseling’s essence has yet to fully diffuse throughout the profession and the annals of textbooks delving into counseling skills. However, rays of hope shine forth on the horizon.

The American Psychological Association, attuned to the need for cultural inclusivity, has ratified guidelines for multicultural psychology. A harmonious echo emanates from the American Counseling Association, which has embraced multicultural competencies. These momentous strides herald a promising future where the practice of counseling skills is poised to embrace cultural nuances more comprehensively.

As the pages of time turn, it is not inconceivable that the embrace of cultural diversity will further enrich the realm of counseling skills, infusing it with a tapestry of perspectives that honor the myriad facets of human existence. The journey towards greater cultural sensitivity marches on, with counseling skills standing as a beacon of change, ready to evolve and embrace the ever-unfolding complexities of the human experience.


  1. Daniels, T. G., & Ivey, A. E. (2007). Microcounseling: Making skills training work in a multicultural world. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas.
  2. Egan, G. (2006). The skilled helper: A problem-management and opportunity-development approach to helping (8th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
  3. Hill, C. E. (1992). Research on therapist techniques in brief individual therapy: Implications for practitioners. The Counseling Psychologist, 20, 689-711.
  4. Ivey, A. E. (1971). Microcounseling: Innovations in interviewing training. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas.
  5. Ivey, A. E., & Bradford, M. B. (2007). Intentional interviewing and counseling: Facilitating client development in a multicultural world (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson/Brooks/Cole.
  6. Ivey, A. E., & Bradford, M. B. (2008). Essentials of intentional interviewing: Counseling in a multicultural world. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Brooks/Cole.
  7. Ivey, A. E., D’Andrea, M., Ivey, M. B., & Simek-Morgan, L. (2007). Theories of counseling and therapy. Boston: Thomson/Allyn & Bacon.
  8. Ivey, A. E., & Gluckstern, N. (1974). Basic attending skills. North Amherst, MA: Microtraining Associates.
  9. Ivey, A. E., Normington, C., Miller, C., Morrill, W., & Hasse, R. (1968). Microcounseling and attending behavior: an approach to prepracticum counselor training. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 15, 1-12.

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