Counselling Tasks

Counselling tasks are a new resource for all involved in the counselling process from trainee-counsellors and trainers to counsellors and self counsellors. The tasks are available separately, or as a whole, free of charge whilst we redevelop our website and complete additional content!

I developed these to meet my own needs as a trainee counsellor, I put what seemed important to me into five sections. This gave me a clearer picture of the developmental stages in the therapeutic process and enabled me to respond more confidently and effectively with clients.

The counselling tasks are a quick guide for developing your skills in these five sections: 1. Listening, 2. Exploring, 3. Understanding, 4. Facing Change, 5. Moving on. Dividing counselling skills in this way is artificial, as in any counselling session skills from all five sections are needed.

However, this method built my skills, brick by brick, layer by layer. At first, I had to be sure of myself; then I could make sure about my client.  In the beginning, I ‘applied’ my counselling skills mechanically; as time went on, my humanity made them real. 

Each Counselling Task has 4 parts:

  1. 10 Quick Start exercises to get you going.
  2. A skill focus, e.g. ‘Listening’ – linked to the client’s presenting problem and to the counsellor’s approach.
  3. An example of Client-Counsellor Interaction, a ‘therapeutic dialogue’.
  4. A summary of Top Tips relating to this session.

‘It’s what I wished was available when I was training to be a therapeutic counsellor.’ Arnfrid Beier


Quick Starts for Counsellors

Quick Starts are 50 warm-up exercises covering the skill areas:

  1. Listening
  2. Exploring
  3. Understanding
  4. Facing Change
  5. Moving On

They can be used for:

  • Introducing a range of clients to trainee counsellors
  • Running an introductory session to ‘what do clients actually say?’
  • Exploring immediate reactions to clients words
  • Group or pair work when practice would be useful, feeding back to the whole group their immediate reactions
  • 50 at-a-glance case studies to enrich your teaching


Quick Starts for Counsellors are in 3 sections –

A. Who is the client and what seems to be the problem?

B. What does the client say about himself/herself?

C. Two quick responses from the counsellor


Free Taster of a Quick Start

A. Who is the client?

  • A woman aged 43 has been finding it difficult to leave the house for the last couple of years.

B. What does the client say?

  • ‘I wish the doctor hadn’t sent me here. I hate it here. I don’t think you can do anything for me. I don’t like the room.’

C. Counsellor’s response

  • What would you say first?
  • How could you put this client at ease? Do you need to?


Try a free Taster of a Counselling Task!

Skill Focus – ‘Listening’

Task 1 – Presenting problem: I just don’t know where I am any more

To consider
Is ‘listening’ a passive or an active engagement with our clients?

Why is this important in counselling?
By listening with, rather than to our clients, we enter into their world, which means we engage with them mentally and emotionally. This allows us to tune into their thoughts and feelings and help them prepare the ground for therapeutic moments. 

Setting – Your client is a soldier aged 24, who has just finished a long tour of duty abroad. He is having trouble sleeping and feels anxious now he has returned to the UK. Every little thing is starting to bother him.

Client’s words – ‘Just look at these nails, my Sergeant Major would have me for them. Bitten down to the quick. I don’t even know I’m doing it and that’s not the half of it. I can’t sleep doc – are you a doc, what do I call you? I’m Ian, my friends call me Charlie boy on account of these ears. I just don’t know where I am any more.’

What are your first impressions?

  1. The client sounds disorientated and lost.
  2. He seems to think I can provide a quick solution to his problems.
  3. His thoughts come across fragmented, his feelings shredded.
  4. I feel his immediate need is: being heard and seen as a real person.


Example of counsellor-client interaction – Listening

Counsellor: (leaning forward) ‘I’m not a doctor, Ian, my name is Robert and you can call me Robert.’

Client: (nods and looks at his fingers)

Counsellor: ‘I noticed your fingernails, Ian, ‘bitten down to the quick’, to use your own words.’

Client: ‘My nails? That’s weird, I thought you’d be feeling the bumps on my head. I can’t sleep, I fret, have you ever fretted?’

Counsellor: ‘Fretted.’

Client: ‘You know worrying that won’t go away.’

Counsellor: ‘Worrying that won’t go away?’

Client: (gives a quick, unsure laugh) ‘You’re beginning to sound like a parrot, Rob.’

Counsellor: (smiles) ‘Could you describe to me, exactly where in your body you feel this ‘fretting’, this ‘worrying’?’

Client: (looks at his fingers) ‘You’re supposed to help me, aren’t you?’

Counsellor: ‘I get the feeling you’re angry with me, Ian.’

Client: (looks up at the counsellor) ‘Angry!’


Top tips

  1. However engaging your client is, focus on what lies beneath obvious words, even if it means certain key words and phrases are repeated to him. Pay attention, show respect and give encouragement. If you use this approach, your client will feel acknowledged and accepted as he is. This will help build a trusting counsellor-client relationship.
  2. It’s important to let the client talk as much as he or she wants about apparently ‘trivial’ concerns, like the nails or the nickname. It allows for the ‘bigger picture’ of your client’s life to appear. 
  3. Let your client find his way, give him space and don’t hurry things. This will help him open up. There may be a lot of barriers and resistances to overcome before core issues come to the fore.
  4. Your client may keep asking you about how you feel or what you think about some of the feelings he or she has. Stay mentally detached, i.e. see, hear, notice what’s going on, but at the same time show empathic warmth and understanding. It is like ‘holding’ your client, supporting him, being there with him.


The aim of this ‘five-layer’ counsellor-client interaction is to help clients:

1. Present their problem

The counsellor helps by: listening, paying attention, showing respect, acceptance and empathy, giving encouragement

2. Explore their story

The counsellor helps by: probing, paraphrasing, reflecting, prompting, clarifying, summarising

3. Understand their position

The counsellor helps by: questioning, challenging, confronting, focusing, prioritising and helping clients to understand their use of language linking to attitudes and beliefs

4. Change their attitudes

The counsellor helps by: encouraging clients to assess the importance of what comes to mind (perception, interpretation, fiction, fact), acknowledging and working with resistances (knowing where we are even if we don’t like it very much), identifying a goal (learning to accept thoughts as just thoughts that will pass)

5. Move on

The counsellor helps his clients take responsibility for their lives, make considered choices without having to rely on the therapist


Disclaimer: The above example of counsellor-client interaction is to be used as a basic learning resource only.