Invitational Counseling Skills

The counseling skills listed on this page are generally used from the beginning of the counseling relationship. With practice, counselors can use a wide range of counseling and conceptual skills simultaneously.


Everyone has values, biases, beliefs, and sore spots. Monitoring one's cognitive, emotional, & behavioral reactions to a client is an important component of multicultural counseling, as doing so is foundational for avoiding imposing one's values onto clients.

Grounding Techniques

Counselors can also use grounding techniques, such as deep breathing, to emotionally regulate during session. Teaching clients' grounding techniques that they find effective is also a foundational microskill that is a prerequisite for more advanced counseling skills that require the client to experience anxiety, sadness, and other "negative" emotions.

Observation & Attending Skills

These microskills are foundational, as nearly all of the other skills on this page require that the counselor understand the client. This understanding is a result of observing, attending to, and verbally tracking clients.

Non-Verbal Communication

Non-verbal communication is a microskill that is important for building trust, enhancing clients' perceptions of the counselor's empathy, & facilitating the client-counselor relationship. Examples of non-verbal communication include:

Minimal Encouragers

There are a number of ways counselors implement this microskill including: "Uh-huh", "yeah", "really?", & "tell me more...".


Counselors use normalizing to invite clients to share more by demonstrating that the counselor is not judging the client and providing the client with a means to understand their experience. This skill is congruent with Rosenzweig's original common factors: providing clients with a way to understand their mental health symptoms.

Examples of normalizing statements include:

Asking Questions

Questions are one of the most widely used microskills in the counseling room. Information on two types of questions, open-ended-questions and closed-ended-questions, can be downloaded as an Adobe® Acrobat® .pdf here or in Microsoft® Word format here.

All counselors are encouraged to practice using open-ended-questions in conversations and interactions, particularly in the counseling room.


Clarifying involves a counselor using a question or reflection to check if their understanding of what a client is saying is accurate. Clarifying can also encourage clients to expand on ambiguous ideas or statements.


Silence is a powerful tool that counselors use to encourage clients to move deeper into an experience. It can be a bit tricky to decide if a gap in the conversation should be met with silence or with another skill, like a reflection, and it is important to be aware that some people use the "silent treatment", so silence can be quite anxiety provoking for some clients. We encourage counselors in training to practice sitting in silence with another person, since it is essential that counselors be comfortable with silence.

Timing & Pacing the Session

Timing & pacing are not considered microskills, however, they are aligned with what Ivey, Bradford Ivey, & Zalaquett (2014) call "focusing". Counselors generally seek to increase the emotional depth of the session across time, while being aware of the client's culture, needs, & response.

There are times when counselors have to interrupt clients, for example, when the session time is nearly up.

Directing & Focusing the Session

Ivey, Bradford Ivey, & Zalaquett (2014) refer to this microskill as focusing. People often like to vent, however, venting to a counselor can get really expensive! It is important to collaborate with clients to develop a shared session direction that is grounded in well articulated goals.

Some contexts, like completing intake paperwork, crisis intervention, assisting a client in identifying their emotions, or conducting a suicide assessment, call for more directive approaches to counseling.

Other contexts, like setting goals, evaluating how effective counseling has been, and terminating the counseling relationship, call for a less directive, more collaborative approach.