Counseling can be incredibly helpful for individuals seeking to overcome troublesome problems or figuring out how to live according to their values and long-term goals (Cochran & Cochran, 2015).
While the process of counseling is vital, so too is the therapeutic relationship that forms between the counselor and client. And while there are many interventions and ways of engaging with clients, the aim remains the same: to help people live their lives more effectively (Nelson-Jones, 2014).
This article introduces and explores a variety of tools, techniques, and worksheets to support counselors and their clients along the counseling journey.
Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology, including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.
This Article Contains:
- Goals & Objectives of Counseling
- 3 Best Counseling Tools & Techniques
- 7 Popular Assessment Tools
- Top 2 Counseling Worksheets for Adults
- 2 Tools for Marriage Counseling
- Helping Self-Esteem Issues: 2 Worksheets
- 2 Career Counseling Tools
- School Counselor Tools: 2 Worksheets for Students
- PositivePsychology.com’s Helpful Tools
- A Take-Home Message
Goals & Objectives of Counseling
“Counseling focuses on helping people use existing resources for coping with life” (Nelson-Jones, 2014, p. 4). But more than that, counseling also involves a relationship, a set of interventions, and a collection of psychological processes with goals.
Nelson-Jones (2014) sets out the following five goals and objectives for counseling:
- Supportive listening
Providing clients with the opportunity to be heard, understood, and affirmed, the counselor must be skilled at listening, empathizing with the client’s perspective, and reflecting back on what they have heard, with the aim of:
Healing psychological wounds
Offering a sounding board
Helping the client move forward
- Managing a problem situation
Clients will often bring problematic situations to counseling. The counselor can support the client by breaking a larger problem into several smaller, more manageable chunks. For example, rather than focusing on the broader problem of shyness, a counselor may work on a client’s shyness in a specific situation (such as in class).
- Problem management
Alternatively, sometimes the problem a client brings to the session must be tackled as part of a much larger problem. Indeed, “problems can be larger and more complex than specific situations within them” (Nelson-Jones, 2014, p. 11). For example, a client’s sense of being overwhelmed or feeling depressed may have multiple dimensions: unhappiness in their job, lack of assertiveness in a relationship, and not looking after themselves.
- Strengthening insufficiently strong skills that create problems
While we all have different skills, insufficiently strong or ‘weak’ skills (often categorized as mind, communication, or action skills) can lead to problems that repeat themselves. For example, the client may be unable to keep a job or complete education.
- Enhancing skill strengths
Clients do not always attend counseling to ‘fix’ or address problems. Instead, they may “wish to function even better than they do now” (Nelson-Jones, 2014, p. 11). The aim here is to help already well-functioning people to get more out of their lives.
Ultimately, counseling requires that clients “make choices that enable them to feel, think and act effectively,” taking responsibility for creating and ordering their lives (Nelson-Jones, 2014, p. 11).
3 Best Counseling Tools & Techniques
Many skills, such as communication, adopting helpful thoughts, and using preferential rather than absolute rules, can dramatically improve clients’ lives and, most importantly, be learned.
Such life skills are equally valuable for both the counselor and the client and can be improved by adopting and practicing new techniques (Nelson-Jones, 2014).
Improving our communication skills
Our vocal messages are a vital aspect of our verbal communication and how we relate to others. Both counselor and client can benefit in counseling and beyond by assessing their spoken communication skills using the VAPER technique (Nelson-Jones, 2014).
Reflecting on a recent conversation, ask the client (or yourself) to focus on the following:
- Volume – Was I talking loud enough for the listener to hear what I was saying comfortably?
- Articulation – Was I clear in my speech, enunciating words, so the listener easily understood them?
- Pitch – Was I overly straining my voice or talking too high or low?
- Emphasis – Was I using too much emphasis and appearing melodramatic? Or too little and appearing flat?
- Rate – Was I speaking very quickly and appearing anxious? Or very slowly and coming across as dull or pompous?
Take what you have learned into future conversations and adapt each element according to your audience.
How thinking mediates our behavior
Much of the time, how we think mediates how we behave. Working through the STC (situation, thoughts, and consequences) framework can help clients understand the relationship between what happens and how they react (Nelson-Jones, 2014).
For example, Jo has recently been promoted.
S = Situation
Jo is working at the next level in her company and managing additional staff.
T = Thoughts relating to the situation
Jo thinks she was good at her previous job but feels she may be out of her depth now. She worries her new reports will not respect her.
C = Physical reactions, feelings, and behavior that are a consequence of S and T
Jo feels anxious, avoids communicating with the team, and does not show good leadership qualities.
Helping the client break down their thought process can improve their thinking about their thinking and encourage control.
The rules we live by
“Rules are the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ by which people lead their lives” (Nelson-Jones, 2014, p. 25). While some are rational and in line with our values and life goals, others are irrational, a result of fear or our demands for instant gratification.
Clients may perpetuate their distress by holding demanding rules (or beliefs) rather than preferential rules, which are more healthy, productive, rational, and in line with social reality and the cost of such preferences.
- Think of three demanding rules you set for yourself
For example, “I must be a perfect parent.”
- Then, turn them into preferential rules
For example, “I’d prefer to be a good parent, but I am learning and will make mistakes.”
Each of the tools and techniques above is valuable for helping clients better understand themselves while improving their interactions with others.
7 Popular Assessment Tools
Assessment in counseling can involve a range of data collection methods, some formal, including psychometrically sound instruments, and others informal, including open-ended questioning.
The following sample includes some of the most popular assessment tools in counseling and counseling psychology (modified from Leppma & Jones, 2013; Iresearchnet.com, n.d.):
- Unstructured clinical interview – often the primary (sometimes sole) method of assessment, involving “gathering information about the client’s understanding, perspective, and feelings regarding his or her problem” (Leppma & Jones, 2013, p. 3).
- Semi-structured or structured interviews – information is elicited from the client in a more structured way, using specific questions that are read out.
- Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-III – used to measure cognitive functioning and IQ.
- Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2 – the most widely used test for objective personality assessment; can assist in selecting treatment methods.
- Strong Interest Inventory – used to identify and measure vocational interests.
- Beck Depression Inventory and the Symptom Check List-90 – brief tests commonly used to assess specific mental health symptoms.
For other assessment tools, visit Iresearchnet.
Top 2 Counseling Worksheets for Adults
The right tools and techniques at the right time can be powerful methods for change in the lives of our clients.
The following two worksheets help clients understand their emotions better and learn how to become more resilient.
Exploring Our Feelings
We have emotions all the time, yet we are often unaware of them or choose to push them down deep. And yet, our mental health benefits from being clear on how we feel and how such emotions connect with other thoughts (Deurzen & Adams, 2016).
Use the Exploring Our Feelings worksheet to reflect on the frequency and content of the client’s emotions (modified from Deurzen & Adams, 2016).
Ask the client to think about their life and make a list of the feelings they have – positive and negative, wanted and unwanted.
Understanding our emotions can bring clarity to how we live our lives while suggesting opportunities to make changes.
Benefit Finding in Difficulties
The things people do or say to us can be upsetting and, at first sight, harmful. And yet, spending time focusing on the positives and identifying benefits can help us become stronger and more resilient (Niemiec, 2018).
Use the Benefit Finding in Difficulties worksheet to enhance self-growth through difficult experiences.
Ask the client to think of a situation when someone offended them and then consider the following questions:
What were the positive aspects of the experience?
What strengths and resources did you use to get through and recover from the experience?
What have you learned as a result?
How might this experience help you in the future?
What strengths and resources will you call on in the future?
Resilience is not just about recovering; it involves taking learnings forward to equip yourself for new challenges.
2 Tools for Marriage Counseling
People enter marriage counseling for various difficulties in their relationship, including poor communication, infidelity, parenting, family involvement, and financial problems (Williams, 2012).
And while marriage therapy is never easy, the right tools can greatly assist the process.
Solve your solvable problems
Gottman and Silver (2018) suggest a five-step approach to treating one another in a relationship with the same degree of respect you would most likely give others:
- Soften your start-up – Gently lead into the discussion; don’t begin with criticism, defensiveness, contempt, or stonewalling.
- Learn to make and receive repair attempts – When things have gone wrong or an argument has happened, try to use a comment that helps repair the damage (and watch out for the other person doing the same). For example, saying, “Yes, you are right. You do most of the cooking, and I appreciate it.”
- Soothe yourself and each other – Find a way to restore calm, even if it means stopping to get a drink or taking a pause.
- Compromise – Relationships are about compromise; that’s how couples succeed.
- Dealing with emotional injuries – Finding a way to compromise that leaves you both satisfied can help heal the scars; so too can agreeing on a way to avoid the argument in the future.
Finding shared values
Identifying and agreeing on the values central to you both as individuals and together as a couple can strengthen relationship bonds (Gottman & Silver, 2018).
Ask the client to take a little time to identify significant symbols of their marriage:
What symbols (photos, paintings, ornaments, etc.) represent who the family is to the world?
Which family stories do you share with pride?
What was your home experience as a child, and what is important for one now?
What objects signify a meaningful and well-lived life?
Helping Self-Esteem Issues: 2 Worksheets
While our self-esteem is a fundamental part of who we are, it is far from fixed (McKay & Fanning, 2016).
The following worksheets explore our self-view and how we can improve or maintain our self-esteem.
Reflecting on Past Successes
Use the Reflecting on Past Successes worksheet to remind clients that they can do anything they set out to achieve.
Ask the client to identify their most significant successes; they may include promotions, educational success, finding a loving partner, and having a great family.
Once complete, review the list and answer why each is important. The answers will closely tie in with the values they hold dear and shed light on areas where they should be spending more time.
Personal Affirmations for Self-Esteem
Often, we focus on our negatives – this is our negativity bias – which can greatly influence how we feel about ourselves.
Use the Personal Affirmations for Self-Esteem worksheet to create a set of statements that celebrate self-worth.
Ask the client to create a set of affirmation statements, but keep in mind the following:
- Use “I” statements. I am good at being a parent.
- Use the present tense. I am smart.
- Use positive language. ‘I am friendly’ rather than ‘I am not unfriendly.’
Repeat these statements three times a day for the next week and try to believe what you say.
2 Career Counseling Tools
Career counseling can shed light on the opportunities open to clients and help them overcome difficulties and obstacles at work (Deurzen & Adams, 2016).
Effectiveness at Work
Our professional lives can provide positive emotions and the chance to grow and develop, yet we may sometimes be left doubting our ability to handle difficult situations.
Use the Effectiveness at Work worksheet to check how the client manages their professional lives and identify any learning or changes to put in place.
Describe a past work situation that caused you problems or difficult emotions.
What was your part in causing or maintaining the problem?
What did you do to solve it?
Why did it take you so long to act?
Now, looking back, is there anything you could have done differently?
The lessons learned from reflecting on past situations at work can be helpful when obstacles arise in the future.
Visualization is a powerful tool for imagining how you would feel if you could have the promotion, role, or career you have been dreaming of.
Use the Career Visualization worksheet with clients to help them imagine in a detailed way how it would look and feel to have the career they would like.
Afterward, they should consider what to do next to start their journey to that new place.
School Counselor Tools: 2 Worksheets for Students
School counselors help children work through difficult times and painful emotions, supporting and encouraging them to perform better in their school environment.
Choosing the right interventions can help students see that there are other ways of looking at problems and that things will not always be this way (Adams, 2016).
Challenging Self-Limiting Thoughts
Children, like adults, can develop thought patterns that are unhelpful and harmful. “Disputation is a process in which questioning is used to challenge and evaluate the validity and utility of thinking errors” (Adams, 2016, p. 112).
Use the Challenging Self-Limiting Thoughts worksheet in your role as a school counselor working with children to uncover the reasons behind their conclusions and consider alternative explanations.
Ask the children to think of several unhelpful thoughts that they (or the counselor) recognize may not be true, then challenge each one.
Sometimes, when one thing goes wrong, it can feel like everything is going wrong, especially in a child’s life. So, it can help to consider when the problem is not there or is less intense (Adams, 2016).
Use the Exception Thinking worksheet to identify when things are going better, as this could be a valuable source of ideas and inspiration regarding what to do and how to cope (modified from Adams, 2016).
Having answered the questions, the client will benefit from thinking about what they could do more of in the future that may help.
PositivePsychology.com’s Helpful Tools
We have many free resources that will support the counseling process and a successful outcome:
- Career Counseling Evaluation
This helpful set of questions encourages the client to reflect and rate the session with the counselor.
- Case Conceptualization and Action Plan for Couples
Use this worksheet with couples to conceptualize their case and identify a plan for dealing with setbacks.
- Case Conceptualization and Action Plan for Individuals
Use this worksheet with individuals to conceptualize their case and identify a plan for dealing with setbacks.
- Types of Speech
Use these prompts to become more aware by identifying and reflecting on the different styles used by the client during counseling and considering what they may mean.
More extensive versions of the following tools are available with a subscription to the Positive Psychology Toolkit©, but they are described briefly below:
- Wheel of Needs Assessment
This tool enables clients to assess their current level of satisfaction with 10 psychological needs.
Once completed, the client can choose which area of their life to focus their attention, energies, and goal setting on.
- Vision Quest
The exercise helps clients invest in several life domains and promotes a balanced life.
- Step one – Document long-term goals.
- Step two – Document short- and medium-term goals.
- Step three – Take action by planning your days and your life to ensure you are working toward your goals.
Over time, clients should see the gaps beginning to close between where they are now and where they want to be.
- 17 Positive Psychology Exercises
If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others enhance their wellbeing, check out this signature collection of 17 validated positive psychology tools for practitioners. Use them to help others flourish and thrive.
A Take-Home Message
For many clients, counseling can be life-changing, helping them gain clarity and direction in their lives and learning to overcome obstacles that get in their way.
Counseling has proven valuable across all life domains, including school, relationships, and work, helping people live their lives more fully and effectively.
Clients are shown that they have the resources they need but can learn to use them better, live according to their values, and work toward their chosen goals.
Techniques, tools, and worksheets help build the therapeutic relationship needed and implement practices for a successful outcome. Learning skills such as problem management, identifying and using strengths, improving communication, and replacing unhelpful thoughts can increase a client’s sense of control over their lives while enhancing their wellbeing.
Use the counseling techniques, tools, and worksheets in this article to create a therapeutic process and bond that facilitates understanding clients’ needs, helping them take responsibility for their lives according to their values and overcome distress.
We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free.
- Adams, M. (2016). Coaching psychology in schools: Enhancing performance, development, and wellbeing. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.
- Cochran, J. L., & Cochran, N. H. (2015). The heart of counseling: Counseling skills through therapeutic relationships. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.
- Deurzen, V. E., & Adams, M. (2016). Skills in existential counselling & psychotherapy. SAGE.
- Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (2018). The seven principles for making marriage work. Seven Dials.
- Iresearchnet.com. (n.d.). Counseling psychology assessments. Retrieved February 24, 2022, from http://psychology.iresearchnet.com/counseling-psychology/counseling-psychology-assessments/
- Leppma, M., & Jones, K. D. (2013). Multiple assessment methods and sources in counseling: Ethical considerations. Vistas 2013. Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://www.counseling.org/docs/default-source/vistas/multiple-assessment-methods-and-sources-in-counseling-ethical-considerations.pdf?sfvrsn=f9de9963_12
- McKay, M., & Fanning, P. (2016). Self-esteem: A proven program of cognitive techniques for assessing, improving, & maintaining your self-esteem. New Harbinger.
- Nelson-Jones, R. (2014). Practical counselling and helping skills. Sage.
- Niemiec, R. M. (2018). Character strengths interventions: A field guide for practitioners. Hogrefe.
- Williams, M. (2012). Couples counseling: A step by step guide for therapists. Viale.