Challenging Skills

There are a number of situations when a client may benefit from gentle challenging. There are multiple skills from which a counselor can choose when challenging a client. Challenging should always be done with empathy, so counselors are encouraged to avoid challenging to meet their needs, instead of the client's.


Immediacy is a counseling skill that is associated with interpersonal process therapy (IPT). Immediacy is useful for strengthening the therapeutic relationship, bringing the counseling session into the here-and-now, increasing client awareness, and addressing maladaptive relationship patterns that are occurring between the counselor and client (Teyber, 2006). Process comments are one form of immediacy that involve the counselor cueing the client to focus on the interpersonal process in the session rather than the session content.

For example, a counselor might say "When I just shared my interpretation of what you were saying I noticed your facial expression changed. I'm wondering what you were you feeling as I said that to you." (self-disclosure).


Self-disclosure is an advanced microskill that requires self-awareness on the part of the counselor. Considering how self-disclosing will benefit both the counselor and the clients can reduce inappropriate self-disclosure.

Counselors can use self-disclosure to give clients feedback about how the counselor experiences the client. This might be facilitated through other counseling skills, such as immediacy.


Reframing is a microskill that is grounded in cognitive therapy. Counselors use reframes to encourage clients to see a situation or problem in a different, often more positive, light. Reframing often involves recognizing a client's positive intentions and communicating an understanding that they are doing the best that they can, given their unique life circumstances.


People use metaphors to share complex, difficult to grasp experiences. Counselors can listen for client metaphors, which can be explored to gain understanding and empathy. Counselors might also use metaphors to challenge clients to think about an idea in a new way or to take a different perspective.


Psychoeducation is a microskill that involves the counselor taking on the role of teacher. For example, a counselor might teach a client about the ways that various counseling theories conceptualize and treat depression.


Interpreting is a broad microskill that relies on counselor self-disclosure, as the counselor must disclose their interpretation of what a client is saying. Any statement that a counselor makes to a client that has meaning beyond what the client has disclosed is considered an interpretation. Reframes, reflections, and other counseling skills can be used to communicate a counselor's interpretation of the client's communication.


Confrontation is another microskill identified by Ivey, Bradford Ivey, & Zalaquett (2014). It is important that confrontations be gentle and empathetic, and using this microskill requires the counselor to be aware of the ways in which their personal culture might bias the confrontation. A counselor might confront a client who is chronically late to session or who repeatedly violates the counselor's boundaries. The way in which a counselor confronts a client depends on the client's culture as well as the theory or theories the counselor is using. Confrontation and challenging skills are often utilized in combination with immediacy and are essential communication skills across a wide range of disciplines including counseling, nursing, and teaching.

Repairing Relationships

Ruptures are an inevitable part of any relationship. Knowing how to talk openly about relationship ruptures and engage in repair attempts is a valuable skill.

Sometimes people, including counseling clients, lash out when they are feeling emotionally overwhelmed & alone. It takes a lot of practice for counselors to learn to respond non-defensively, even when client's engage in personal attacks.