Developing Self-Awareness

The Importance of Developing Self-Awareness

Effective counsellors are self-aware, open to feedback and willing to learn. As we become deeply involved in a relationship with clients, we need to control our biases and constantly monitor the feelings and opinions to separate daily experiences and feelings from those of the clients. Knowledge of self, including consciousness of my values and beliefs and my behaviour's impact on clients, is a prerequisite for my profession (Yorkville University, 2020a). Counsellors who lack this self-awareness may confuse their clients' feelings with their own. Not being aware of my own needs, including unmet ones, risks unconsciously using counselling relationships to meet my pursuits instead of client goals. In addition, counsellors will be ignorant of those areas of practice in which they are competent and those in which it will be challenging to work with objectivity without self-awareness. Skilled professionals know themselves, ensuring that their values and beliefs do not burden their clients (Young, 2021). They accept that exploring and reflecting on one's competence and the limits of one's role and expertise are fundamental to professional practice. We must sidestep what clients can and should do for themselves throughout the sessions (Shebib, 2020). This enabling of participating in decision-making about counselling goals and procedures empowers the clients. Consequently, we need to acknowledge and give credit to them and keep all the data for success, resulting in more confidence and self-esteem (Sperry & Sperry, 2020). With a deeper understanding of the crucial role of self-awareness in the session's results, deploying the Integrated Model of Self-awareness Development (IMSAD) is also being studied and suggested (Pieterse et al., 2013).

Developing Self-Awareness

The idea of self-awareness has two different components: external and internal. External self-awareness is our sense of being aware of our surroundings, the clients' feelings in the session and mindful of what's happening there. On the other hand, internal self-awareness is what's happening inside of us, how we're responding and how the external is responding to us. This means these two play a dance with each other, and our conscious awareness can harmonize their play (Yorkville University, 2020a). The tone of voice, the narrative of the client's speech, and the emotions and feelings they present during sessions can identify what is happening in the external world (Yorkville University, 2020c).

Internal self-awareness, how our emotional systems respond to what's happening in the room, what we're feeling, what we're thinking, what experiences we're bringing to the table, has its crucial importance (Yorkville University, 2020a). For instance, working with a client, they start talking about how challenging it has been since their beloved one died, the amount of grief that's in the room, the intensity of tears or sadness that comes with that, the idea of grief is now we are aware of what's happening with the clients. It might bring up some feelings of emptiness and might also start our thought process around our loss in life, or even future loss if our beloved ones are at risk and we think about losing them. Accordingly, this is an interaction that's happening. If we shut down those feelings in our internal environment because of its genuine pain inside us, the client will respond by deeming that we withdraw or suddenly change the topic we don't want to discuss. Therefore, when we refer to self-awareness, we mean being aware of both the external and internal, how they influence each other, how we start to see them, interactions between them, or how they encounter. Hence, self-awareness is built over time as we gain experience and knowledge, becoming aware of what's happening both externally and internally (Shebib, 2020).

Counselling goals and the therapeutic outcome could be negatively affected by the counsellor's desire to focus on one more than the other. Therapists will not stock in the internal if they know what's happening in the other, and vice versa. This calls for an appreciation of both and observation of their interaction. According to Knapp et al. (2017), various areas are a lack of self-awareness could pose a risk to psychotherapists' effectiveness and a series of questions they can ask themselves to increase their self-awareness: the extent to which they (a) are aware of their immediate reactions to patients, (b) can evaluate their competencies accurately, (c) effectively monitor potential biases, (d) consider that they may misuse heuristics in their decision-making, and (e) think about how personal values may influence their professional decisions.

Response Development and Response Delivery

Doing well through continued practice through time, knowledge acquisition, and feedback from supervisors will help create the responses to give to the client. Preoccupied with what to reply, counsellors can't indeed be successful in response delivery, unless they listen first to their clients. We cannot understand our clients' situation's complexities and uniqueness unless we actively listen to the clients. The first issue is sometimes we think that replies are scripted, or we have these perfect responses in our minds ready to give to clients, but that's not accurate at all (Yorkville University, 2020b). We cannot have a script going into a session; instead, we use what our clients provide, conveying a script less plan. Clients fill the session with their stories, narratives, feelings, and thoughts (Basket Analogy). Then we pull out the symptoms, consequences, reactions, perceptions, healing, and everything they put forward from the stories they put in the session's basket. We use that to provide the client with feedback or responses. The way we deliver comebacks to the clients, not just the way we create them or how we're using them purposefully, but also the delivery, is essential as well. Delivering the responses, we should consider tone making a word that could be sharp, warm, flat, or more inviting or resonating empathy with the client. The volume, loudness, or the rate of our speech, as another role players, can make a huge impact either, especially with clients who have a lot of feelings that are coming out or in crisis situations (Yorkville University, 2020c). These four elements should be on our radar when analyzing how we respond to our clients. We likewise listen to our speech rate to know if it needs to be a little faster or slower. When a client talks a lot without interplaying with us or offering responses, it is essentially a rhythm that creates the session resulting in one-sided play. Therefore, our response rate should almost effectively follow a rhythmic pattern. Paraphrasing, summarizing, questioning, and showing empathy constitute the foundation of effective listening, reflecting and response delivery to the clients enabling counsellors to focus and deepen the interview (Yorkville University, 2020c). A good dialogue involves mental tools, questioning, and exploration of issues, which can help clients clarify and organize their thoughts (Yorkville University, 2020c). Active listening, as an interactive process, includes six skills: attending, using silence, paraphrasing, summarizing, questioning, and showing empathy (Shebib, 2020). As counsellors, to improve our response delivery proficiently, we need to strive to be empowered by these skills.


Knapp, S., Gottlieb, M. C., & Handelsman, M. M. (2017). Self-awareness questions for effective psychotherapists: Helping good psychotherapists become even better. Practice Innovations, 2(4), 163–172.

Pieterse, A. L., Lee, M., Ritmeester, A., & Collins, N. M. (2013). Towards a model of self-awareness development for counselling and psychotherapy training. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 26(2), 190–207.

Shebib, B. (2020). Choices: Interviewing and counselling skills for Canadians (7th ed.) Pearson.

Sperry, L., & Sperry, J. (2020). Case conceptualization. Taylor & Francis.

Young, M. (2021). Learning the art of helping: Building blocks and techniques (7th ed.). Pearson.

Yorkville University [Module 2: Safe and Effective Use of Self]. (2020a). Developing Self-Awareness [Video]. MACP Skills Learning Lab.

Yorkville University [Module 3: Micro-Skills]. (2020b). Response Development [Video]. MACP Skills Learning Lab.

Yorkville University [Module 3: Micro-Skills]. (2020c). Response Delivery [Video]. MACP Skills Learning Lab.

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