Ensuring that you understand your clients, and that your clients feel
understood by you is foundational to the counseling relationship. The skills on
this page are particularly useful for building the counseling relationship by
helping your clients to know that you are hearing and understanding what they
Summarizing, Paraphrasing, & Reflecting
Summarizing, paraphrasing, and reflecting are probably the three most
important & most commonly used microskills. These skills can be used
by counselors to demonstrate their empathy to clients, make the counseling
session go "deeper", & increase clients' awareness of
their emotions, cognitions, & behaviors. All three methods involve repeating back, in
your own words, what the client has said. Counselors often go beyond simple
repetition and include their own interpretations of the client's
emotions or existential meaning to increase the "depth" of the
session. These techniques can often be used in place of questions, as, like
questions, they prompt the client to reflect or talk more. However, these
techniques often have additional benefits of questions as they also
demonstrate that the counselor empathizes with and understands each
client. Summaries, paraphrases, and reflections can be described
Broadest of the three methods for repeating
Useful at the end or beginning of session. For
example, summarizing the session to the client or reorienting the client
to the previous session.
Summaries can include condensed paraphrases &
Not as broad as a summary, yet more broad than a
Useful for pacing counseling sessions and for
demonstrating empathy to clients.
Paraphrases can contain condensed reflections.
There are three broad types of reflection:
Reflections of content, reflections of feeling, &
reflections of meaning.
Counselors can strengthen their reflections by
constructing a reflection that integrates content, process, affect, and
meaning. For example, "While talking about the loss of your dog
(content) I experience you as alternating between anger and
sadness (affect). That makes a
lot of sense to me (self-disclosure), since you told me
that seeing your dog at the end of a stressful day kept you grounded
Types of Reflections
Counselors can reflect a wide range of information, but reflections
typically include one or more of the following:
Reflecting content involves repeating back to clients a version of
what they just told you. Reflecting content shows the client you
understand and are listening to them. Typically, reflecting content
alone is not as powerful as reflecting content with emotions and/or
Reflecting a client's emotions is often useful for heightening the
client's awareness of and ability to label their own emotions. It is
important that counselors have a wide emotional vocabulary, so they
can tailor their word choice to match a level of emotional intensity
that is congruent with a client's experience.
Feeling word charts are useful for reviewing a
wide range of feeling words.
theorists observe, humans are meaning making creatures.
Reflecting a client's meaning can increase the client's self-awareness
while encouraging emotional depth in the session.
Counselors can intentionally use language to increase or decrease the emotional
intensity of their reflections, thereby altering a client's emotional
arousal. Using evocative language and metaphors (e.g., "walking on
eggshells") encourages clients to go deeper into a
particular experience or emotion, which can heighten awareness and
understanding. Conversely, a counselor might support a client in containing
their emotions toward the end of the session, so the client is prepared to
leave the session.
It is important that counselors attempt to match their reflections to the
emotional intensity of the client's experience. Thus, intentionality is
important when counselors reflect more or less emotion than the client
expresses, as doing so can result in the client feeling misunderstood and
not listened to.
An example of emotional heightening is:
Client: "My wife and I can't stop fighting with each other, and things
are really escalating."
Counselor: "Your fights are becoming more explosive and hostile."