Top 10 Micro-Skills You Need To Advance As A Counsellor


If you’re considering a career in counselling, chances are you’re looking for more meaningful work that makes a real difference in people’s lives. And that means you probably already possess counselling micro-skills like empathy and a genuine desire to help people create positive change.

But did you know developing and honing these micro-skills is key to being a great counsellor? 

Counselling is an art that combines theory, practice, and interpersonal skills. For counsellors, micro-skills like empathy, communication, and an open mind are important underpinnings of a successful counselling practice.

Let’s take a closer look at how you can use micro-skills in counselling to further your career.

What are micro-skills in counselling?

A good counselling relationship is vital to helping a client recognise, understand, address and transcend issues that are causing distress, confusion or discomfort. Micro-skills are foundational communication and relational techniques counsellors use to build rapport, make clients feel comfortable, and drive the therapeutic process. 

Counsellors use micro-skills to empathise, understand, connect and interact with their clients. Each is valuable to the counselling process, but the magic happens when you combine them into a comprehensive skill set to achieve your clients’ goals in therapy. 

Who should learn counselling micro-skills?

Micro-skills are helpful for anyone working in a helping role or people-focused job because they help you connect, support, and motivate people. 

Micro-skill training can benefit many types of roles:

  • Career coaches can use reflective listening, questioning and rapport building to help clients clarify goals, navigate challenges and improve work satisfaction. 
  • Social workers interact with vulnerable clients who need to feel heard, understood and cared about. Micro-skills can strengthen and validate these relationships.
  • Human resource managers can use micro-skills to improve performance reviews and positive feedback. 
  • Teachers can use micro-skills to build student trust, deepen understanding and motivate change.
  • Managers who lead teams, delegate work and resolve employee issues need strong interpersonal and communication skills. Micro-skills like active listening, posing open-ended questions and reflective summaries can help. 
  • Leaders can use micro-skills training to connect with teams and boost performance and wellbeing. 

Key micro-skills in counselling

Here are ten invaluable micro-skills for counselling to propel your career:

  • Active listening 
  • Reflection of feelings 
  • Open-ended questions
  • Summarising 
  • Paraphrasing 
  • Clarification 
  • Silence 
  • Non-verbal communication 
  • Affirmation and validation
  • Challenging. 

But how do you apply them? Let’s dive into each below. 

Active listening 

This micro-skill is a powerful tool for person-centred counselling. It shows your client you’ve truly heard them, establishing greater trust and openness. 

Active listening involves giving your full attention to the client, and using verbal and nonverbal cues to show that you're engaged and understanding what they're saying.

Example: Focus on what your client is saying without distraction so that you can analyse and understand the key points. 

Use direct eye contact, attentive body language, and minimal verbal cues like “Mm-hmm” and “I see” to encourage further discussion. You can also take notes or use memory aids to relay your client’s words back to them.

Reflection of feelings

This micro-skill involves acknowledging and mirroring the client’s emotions, helping them to feel heard and understood. You can reflect their feelings through your body language, facial expressions and tone of voice.

You can also use reflection techniques to help your client give their life events meaning and purpose. It encourages them to dive deeper into the underlying thoughts and feelings behind core issues.

Example: Use reflective statements and paraphrasing to show you’ve heard and understood them, such as “It sounds like you're feeling really frustrated about this situation.” 

Cochran & Cochran (2015) suggest you can practise reflection by:

  • Reflecting on your version of what the client has communicated.
  • Using concise, declarative statements to show you’ve understood. 
  • Focusing on the most emotionally charged comments. 
  • Using this micro-skill to encourage further communication without interrupting the conversational flow.

Open-ended questions

How you use questions can drive the conversation forward or change its direction. Remember to ask open-ended questions that require more than a simple yes or no answer, encouraging clients to elaborate and explore their thoughts and feelings. 

Example: Open-ended questions often begin with what, why, how, or could, such as: 

  • What prompted you to set this meeting today? 
  • Why do you think that?
  • How did that make you feel?
  • Could you give me an example of…?


Condensing and restating the client’s main points ensures you understand their concerns and helps them gain clarity. It can offer them a sort of 'emotional snapshot', helping them see the bigger picture.

Example: Imagine you've just heard a client recount their emotional week—family stress, work problems and sleepless nights. 

You might summarise what they’ve told you by saying, "So, if I'm hearing you correctly, you're feeling overwhelmed because you're juggling high-stress situations both at home and work. And this is affecting your sleep. Is that accurate?" 


Repeat your client's words in your own phrasing to confirm you’ve understood them and demonstrate you’re actively engaged with what they’re discussing. Paraphrasing helps you dig deeper into what the client really means, offering them a chance to explore those feelings further.

Example: If your client says, "I can't stand my boss. He's so controlling!" You could paraphrase with, "It sounds like you're feeling frustrated because your boss is always hovering over you. Do I have that right?"


Clarification allows you to peel back layers and really get to the root of the issue. Seek clarification when something the client says is unclear or ambiguous to make sure you’re both on the same page.

Example: You’ve asked your client “Why was it such a bad day?” They respond, “I don't know, it was just bad.” You might seek clarification by asking, “Could you tell me more about where that feeling started?" 


Sometimes silence is worth a thousand words. Allowing for pauses in conversation  gives your client space to process their thoughts, feelings, and responses and assists with digging a little deeper into the issue.

Example: After asking a powerful question like, “How did that experience make you feel?” allow a pause—a comfortable silence. This gives your client time to sift through their thoughts and feelings before they speak. 

Non-verbal communication

Stay aware of your own body language, facial expressions, and gestures to convey empathy, respect, and interest.

Example: Nonverbal cues include nodding, leaning forward, and smiling appropriately. If your client shares something deeply personal and emotionally charged, you could maintaining eye contact, nod subtly, and even slightly tilt your head to signal you're present and engaged. It's like a visual cue that creates a safer space for them to open up.

Affirmation and validation

Acknowledge your client's feelings and experiences to demonstrate that their emotions are valid and understood.

Example: Say your client has just shared how anxious they've felt about job hunting. You could affirm and validate them by replying, “You're not alone in feeling this way. The uncertainty of job searching is incredibly stressful. Your feelings are completely valid.”


Gently challenging inconsistencies or discrepancies in your client's thoughts or behaviours encourages self-reflection and growth. You can use challenging to suggest alternative perspectives and move the therapeutic process forward. However, you’ll need to use this micro-skill sensitively for the best results.

Example: Challenging should be done sparingly and with great care. Focus on developing your therapeutic relationship before directly confronting a client. Always use this micro-skill from a place of empathy, curiosity and support for the client’s growth. Here are some ways to use challenging skilfully: 

  • Only challenge when you have a clear reason for doing so.  
  • Wait until you know your client well and understand how they’ll respond.
  • Deliver the challenge gently and non-threateningly, avoiding accusation and judgement.   
  • Stay empathetic. Acknowledge that change and growth are difficult.   
  • Ask permission first. Say, “Would it be okay if I shared my perspective?”
  • Check for accuracy. Clarify and correct assumptions. Be willing to admit mistakes.
  • Support as well as challenge. Show a high level of care and encouragement.  
  • Check in about how the challenge feels. Ask, “How did that land for you?” Give them space to share any reactions or clarifications.

Micro-skills and the person-centred approach

Remember that effective integration of these microskills within the person-centred framework requires a deep understanding of the client's unique needs, culture and therapeutic goals.

Person-centred counselling places a strong emphasis on the principles of unconditional positive regard, empathy, and congruence. These principles are not only key, but transformative:

  • Positive regard. By consistently practicing unconditional positive regard, you demonstrate to clients that they are valued and accepted. You show your genuine interest in their inner world, which in turn nurtures a strong bond of understanding and trust. This skill allows you to communicate that their emotions are valid and significant, fostering a deep sense of connection and rapport. 
  • Empathy. This involves attuning yourself to the client's emotional landscape, actively listening not just to their words but also to the underlying emotions they express. It's about creating a space where you can sense and comprehend the feelings they're experiencing without imposing your own judgments or interpretations.  
  • Congruence. Congruence refers to the authentic alignment between your thoughts, feelings, and responses. This skill establishes a foundation of authenticity and honesty that empowers clients to explore their own feelings openly.

The person-centred approach is a foundational theory you'll learn in your counselling studies

How can I learn micro-skills in counselling?

Mastering micro-skills takes focused training, practice and feedback to build proficiency and confidence. One of the best ways to develop them is through a Master of Counselling program.

You’ll get the comprehensive training, supervised practice, and mentoring experience you need to help master a broad range of counselling techniques and apply them in a clinical setting working with real clients. 

And there’s never been a better time to re-skill as a counsellor in Australia. In fact, the Australian Government projects demand for counsellors will grow by 14.2 per cent over the next three years. 

With an ECU Online Master of Counselling under your belt, you’ll be one step closer to a career that rewards you in more ways than one. Study anywhere, anytime online—our accelerated, Australian Counselling Association (ACA) accredited course gives you the support, knowledge and skills you need to start a new career sooner. 

Reach out to one of our Student Enrolment Advisors on 1300 707 760, email or download a brochure to get started now.