Making the most of a Counselling Observation

Observing counselling is a huge privilege. For those of us learning to counsel better it’s an essential part of the process of growth. Taking a glimpse at the process of transformation equips and inspires all who want to stand alongside those who are hurting … But it’s a slightly surreal process.

For those who aren’t familiar, a Counselling Observation is when an experienced counsellor meets with a counsellee for a session and they generously allow the session to be recorded. The session then is viewed by others learning to counsel, who agree to strict boundaries of confidentiality. For a few moments in time we students get to enter into the very personal world of complete strangers and see how an experienced counsellor begins to point them to Christ.

But how can we, as students, engage with this process well?

1. Remember the people are real
There’s a genuine danger of forgetting that the people we are watching are real and in real pain. Most times when we are watching a screen, the characters before us are acting and it can be easy to assume the same dynamic is at play when observing a session. But nothing could be further from the truth. They are real people and their struggles are just as real as ours.

2. Allow the people to move you
Because they’re real, because their lives are tough, it’s good to be moved by their story. To learn from a counselling session, it’s good to engage with more than the words being spoken – engage with the emotions being expressed.

3. Listen holistically to the counsellee
It can be tempting to dive in for the big fix. What’s their sin? What’s the solution? What’s the to-do list we would say if we were counselling? But there are three things to listen out for …

Good – what’s encouraging about the counsellee? What signs are there of God’s grace at work? What things are they doing well? In what ways are they growing?

 Hard – what’s tough about their life? What pressures are they facing? What compassion and comfort do they need?

 Bad – where does their sin lie? In what ways are they wandering away from Jesus?

 4. Listen analytically to the counsellor
Counselling sessions move slowly. They move forward as simple questions are posed gently.

The idea isn’t to look for the one comment that is going to make everything better so you can use it at a later date, but to: listen out for the comments that encourage people to share, look at the body language that can reassure, note the moments where comments are reflected back, spot the tone of voice appropriate at each stage of the conversation, think about what needs praying about, note the nudges that encourage the counsellee to come up with some strategies, spot when the counsellee’s story needs to be transformed by the gospel story. It’s not necessary to agree with everything the counsellor says but it is good to reflect on the comments and to learn from them …

5. Listen reflectively
While it’s important to preserve confidentiality and avoid discussing observations outside of a class, there’s no limit to the time that can be spent reflecting in private. Mull and muse, pray and plan. Be specific … Think analytically about the ways in which your own counselling can be moulded by the counselling you have seen on screen. And then, when the time is right, put a few things into action …