Is the most effective counselor the individual entering the field through their personal trials/tribulations, recovery and counseling experiences or the counselor prepared through specialized academic training programs? Is it the counselor with “on the job training and a personal recovery” or the counselor academically prepared without a personal or family history of substance use? Or is the defining characteristic of the effective counselor, the individual’s motivation to serve or care for others?
Research and literature about counseling and the counseling relationship reveals a number of traits or personal characteristics that are present in effective counselors. These traits or characteristics of the effective counselor may be either innate or acquired but regardless of their source, assist clients in coping with life problems.
Corey (1991) itemizes a list of characteristics for counselors to strive for in becoming effective counselors. Corey’s list of effective characteristics includes such items as
- respect and
- appreciation for self,
- recognition of one’s personal power,
- openness to change,
- awareness of self and others,
- willingness to tolerate ambiguity,
- living in the present, and
- ability to derive meaning from one’s work.
Individuals seek counseling for a number of personal or externally motivated reasons. In the counseling relationship, the counselor is a model of a person who has self-respect, can meet his or her own needs without the use of mood-altering substances, and is someone who is able to focus on the needs of others and give constructive help. The counselor exemplifies awareness of self and others, the ability to understand the difficulties of others, and is competent in identifying and resolving problems. In essence, the counselor is able to show the addicted individual in presence and being what it is like to be a healthy person. Corey’s list of goals for counselors to strive for in becoming effective counselors is reflective of the traits of a “healthy” person.
Other positive traits of a counselor as described by Rohrer, Thomas, and Yasenchak (1992) further depict characteristics of a “healthy” person and include such characteristics as
- good listener,
- easy to talk to,
- direct, and
The traits described by either Corey or Rohrer, et al. suggest that the most important part of being or becoming a counselor is in the more intangible aspects that can be defined as the “humanness” of the counselor. These “human” qualities become evident through the counselor’s special way of being and relating to those with addictions, which in turn motivates the addicted individual to engage in the recovery process. Those traits previously identified reflective of the “humanness” of the counselor are traits to a large extent that are innately present in the counselor and not highly dependent on either the acquisition of knowledge or skills by the counselor.
While described differently in various texts on counseling, there is much consistency among the personal characteristics describing effective counselors. The traits that describe the effective counselor are also traits that describe a “healthy” or effective person. These characteristics—self-respect, confidence, openness, tolerance, comfort in relationships, directness, and self-awareness—illustrate that effective counseling is not all knowledge or learned tasks, but rather an artful engagement in a therapeutic relationship in which those intangible “human” traits serve to assist those struggling with their addictions or personal issues. Being an effective counselor is both a way of being as well as having the skill to implement effective psychotherapy processes and use knowledge from the latest research or evidenced based approaches.
Counseling is an interaction between a client and counselor that has a consciously planned purpose, structure, and goal and requires specific communication skills. An essential component of this interaction is the “emotional bond” or “therapeutic alliance” between the client and counselor. The “emotional bond” or “therapeutic alliance” in the counseling relationship is in part influenced by qualities of the counselor’s personality in the therapeutic relationship, often referred to as the core elements or values. These various core elements or values will be reviewed individually in more depth as we move through the course.