The Queanbeyan Age

What traits and skills make a good counsellor?

Good counsellors have a set of skills they have developed over time. Picture by Shutterstock
Good counsellors have a set of skills they have developed over time. Picture by Shutterstock

This is branded content.

When it comes to finding a great counsellor, it's like most things in life; not all things are created equal. Great counsellors often have a unique set of skills, personality traits or ways about them that make them ideal to talk to.

These traits and skills are very easy to learn and develop over time. If you're considering a career in counselling and want to know the skills and traits to make you great, here's an easy guide to get you started.


Good counsellors have a set of skills they have developed over time, and they have those that they learned through a formal qualification. If you're looking to become a good counsellor, then study counselling online or on campus and get the much-needed tertiary skills you need.

Studying counselling can make a huge difference to your base skills, and then when you add experience, you'll become a much more well-rounded counsellor. No matter where you're located, there will be an opportunity to study, thanks to online qualifications. Remote study means you can get a qualification in counselling from almost anywhere.


Good counsellors all have the ability to empathise with their patients without sympathising with them. Empathy is the skill of demonstrating understanding and compassion without the added feelings of pity that sympathy often brings.

Good counsellors are experts at helping their patients feel heard and understood, but never pity. Feeling sorry for someone doesn't make them feel safe, and that is exactly what good counsellors do; they make people in their care feel safe enough to open up. By creating this safe space, good counsellors allow patients to discover things about themselves they may not have known.

This level of empathy and safety is what talk therapy is founded on. Suppose you want to be a good counsellor, and practice empathy, not sympathy. A great place to start is to ask yourself if you're trying to understand or if you feel sorry for them.

Open-ended questions

It may seem odd to think of the ability to ask questions as a skill; after all, everyone can ask a question, right? Where good counsellors set themselves apart is the ability to ask great open-ended questions that allow patients to explore.

Closed questions that allow patients to answer with one-word answers aren't helpful when trying to get someone talking and exploring. The skill of asking truly great open-ended questions takes practice and patience.

A good open-ended question can have someone talking for minutes and minutes. This skill is very important to be a good counsellor; after all, it's when patients open up that the best work can occur.

Counsellors need to focus their skills on questions that are wide enough that they allow freedom to explore without being too broad that the patient can't begin to know where to start. When it's put that way, you can understand how important this skill is for a good counsellor.


Another strange trait or skill, but silence is a must-have for a good counsellor. As human beings, we have an innate need to fill space with words or other noise. When we allow silence and the space to do its work, amazing things can happen. Generally, as a counsellor, when you allow silence to work, patients will continue talking and potentially offer things they wouldn't otherwise do.

Our brains have a natural defence mechanism that wants to stop us from talking right before the good parts. Good counsellors understand the power of silence and practice it until it becomes a part of their skill set.

If you are hoping to become a good counsellor, be sure to practice being silent and learning to feel comfortable in the sometimes awkward silence. Comfort in an awkward moment is an underrated skill but one you won't ever regret practising.

Good counsellors are worth their weight in gold. They are experts at making you feel safe, comfortable and, above all else, free to be your true self. Good counsellors usually share common skills or traits that make them so good.

Whether those skills are formal qualifications, or they possess skills like empathy, the ability to ask great open questions, or they're supremely comfortable in silence. No matter what skills you have or don't have, these are just some of the skills and traits you'll need to be a good counsellor.