I hope these few paragraphs will explain why I wrote the book, Counselling Skills and how I hope it might help those supporting others. I used to think that counselling skills were something that were learnt as a precursor to becoming a counsellor, and indeed that’s true. However, counselling skills are not Cinderella’s slipper, they don’t fit just the one foot! Counselling skills are the bedrock on which counselling is based but they are also relevant and incredibly important for a wide variety of other roles, for example, those within health and social care. In fact, in my opinion the use of counselling skills can enhance all relationships – professional, pastoral, collegiate, family and social.

I worked as a counsellor and supervisor for over two decades. During that time and before, I volunteered and worked in a wide range of roles and settings supporting people. These included, support worker, key worker, employment and support advisor, advocate, within addiction services, the homelessness sector, mental health services, supported housing and dual diagnosis treatment centres. I’ve also taught counselling skills and counselling in different settings for many years.

The third part of my peculiar triptych is my own experiences in mental health and addiction services. In the 70s and 80s my personal experience of mental illness, addiction and complex trauma led me to seek help and support from a wide variety of services both community based and inpatient. I saw and experienced things I’ll never forget. I’ve been restrained and forcibly injected with anti-psychotic drugs. I’ve witnessed the most appalling distress, my own and others, I’ve felt and been judged, and I’ve been criticised and mocked. I’ve been rejected when I most needed comfort and help. I’ve been so lost in psychosis; I’ve been unable to differentiate dream from reality. I’ve been told what to do when I’ve been unable to do it and then been blamed when I simply could not help myself.

I’ve also been listened to and given time and space to heal. I’ve been understood and encouraged. I’ve been held and valued, even when my self-hatred caused me to behave in ugly and bitter ways. I’m so grateful to the people that were able to sit with me during those times, without advising, rescuing or offering platitudes and empty promises.

Once I’d healed enough to step back into the world and begin to give back what I’d been given, a harsh truth began to emerge. In my experience, both personally and professionally, often the most vulnerable, unwell and distressed amongst us are supported by the lowest paid professionals who often have limited access to training and professional development.

I’ve seen beautiful support workers and carers buckle under the emotional toll of working with vulnerable people, without adequate pay, training and support. I’ve seen professionals unintentionally hurt the people they’re supporting through stress and lack of knowledge, skills and self-awareness. I’ve done the same.

All these experiences led to me leading on a BACP project to develop a competence framework for counselling skills and to then write a book based on my professional and personal knowledge, understanding and experiences. The first question that needs answering is perhaps, what are counselling skills?

Counselling skills are so much more than just listening and responding skills, although of course they’re fundamental to communicating effectively and helpfully with others.

They’re also about understanding, seeing the world through the other person’s eyes and feeing it through their heart. They’re about acceptance and being non-judgmental – being aware of when and why we judge, our prejudices and stereotypes.

They’re about sitting with pain and distress, our own and other peoples. They’re about self-awareness and self-care. It’s hard sitting with someone in deep distress, confusion, loss and fear; it’s hard sitting with injustice, unfairness, abuse, trauma and the plethora of ways life can wound and hurt.

Counselling skills help to form a relationship where one person supports and gives their care and attention to another person. A relationship that is respectful, honest and real. Where there is a sense of working with someone, rather than doing to someone.

Counselling skills are about working safely and ethically within boundaries that protect both people and with an awareness and consideration for the value of both people in the relationship.

I hope the book will go some way to exploring these things and offering skills and knowledge to support someone in a safe and meaningful way.

Probably, the most important thing I’d like this book to convey is the great importance of kindness, simple and beautiful human kindness. Kindness with ethics and boundaries. Kindness with the knowledge that sometimes all someone needs is not to be alone in the darkness.

In summary, the book draws on my experiences, both personal and professional, service user, practitioner and tutor. It covers all aspects of counselling skills and counselling skills training, either as a precursor to training to be a counsellor or for valuable skills and knowledge relevant to all roles related to helping and supporting others.

See our book discounts page for BACP members and buy Counselling Skills at Sage Publishing.