What Are The Characteristics Of An Effective Counselor?

"The idea of being a counselor has always appealed to me, but I don’t know if I have the right personality for the job. What are the ideal personality characteristics of a counselor? What makes someone a good counselor?"

asked by Amanda from Boise, ID

The top 10 qualities of an effective counselor are:

As a counselor you need to have patience with your clients as they process the discussion. It may take them time to accept certain things and to move towards positive changes. Some people need to discuss something many times before they are prepared to make a move in any particular direction. Also, you are not likely to see large changes in an individual client; therefore, you must be okay with incremental progress in their lives and rejoice over small victories.

Good Listener
Counselors spend a significant amount of time listening to their clients. You will do more listening than talking. You must be content to give the client time to express their story and their feelings. You will need to be intuitive in discerning what the client is really saying and “read between the lines”.

It is very important that your clients feel your compassion for their problems and that they sense you truly care about them. You may not be able to relate to every issue that is shared with you, but you need to be able to have compassion for how it feels to be in their shoes. Genuine concern yields positive results.

Counselors hear all kinds of private information and encounter all types of people. You may hear dark secrets from someone’s past involving such things as sexual or criminal behavior. You must do you best to refrain from judgment and instead communicate positive regard. There are times when it may be necessary to judge a particular behavior, but the client must not feel that you are judging them. Likewise, you may encounter clients of different races and/or cultures. You must not push your cultural or religious views upon them. Multicultural competency is a necessary skill. The counseling environment needs to be a safe place for a client to share their most intimate concerns.

Being a counselor involves a significant amount of time spent researching. You will need to stay current on the research in order to help your clients. This involves reading books and journal articles on a regular basis. You do not learn everything you need to know while in college. Much of your knowledge will come from personal research after you have begun to see clients.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. You need to be able to put yourself in the shoes of your client and understand the situation from their point of view. Even if you don’t agree with their perspective, you still need the ability to understand how it feels to them in order to address their issue effectively. However, it’s important that you are not too empathetic. Some people struggle as counselors because they are unable to maintain objectivity and therefore carry home the emotional stress of the job. The level of empathy necessary can be a fine line between helpful to client and harmful to counselor.

Confidentiality is of upmost importance when you are a counselor. You must be able to maintain confidentiality so the client can trust you with their most intimate concerns.

The ability to encourage is important for a counselor. Many clients are struggling to find hope in their situation. One of the primary jobs of a counselor often involves instilling hope in a hopeless individual.

A counselor who is aware of their own fears, insecurities, and weaknesses will be effective in the therapeutic relationship. It is important that you do not react defensively to what a client shares. You must be able to keep your own feelings out of the session. You will be better able to do this if you are self-aware. In addition, self-aware individuals are more intuitive with regards to solving their own problems and can use that knowledge to help clients through similar situations.

Authenticity is vital when working with clients. Clients will know if you are being fake or not showing genuine concern. They will not open up to you or trust your advice unless they feel you are genuine. This is even more critically important when working with teens.

Career Spotlight: Psychologist



Psychologists are concerned with the scientific examination of human behavior and the mind. Cognitive functions, social exchanges, and emotional processes are all a part of psychology. These internal [...]

Join The Discussion - 2 Comments

  1. Kobugabe Agnes says:

    Thank you so much for the information and making life easy for us with research.

  2. susan says:

    I have seen 10 counselors in my adult life. Half of them were good and had the characteristics desirable which you mention. The others failed to meet a few criteria you mention. Three lacked sensitivity more than a couple times. One was a parent who had 2 adopted children and she told me more or less that she didn’t want to hear my complaints about my mother. My mother was a big topic for me in talking with this counselor and was stressing me out a lot. The counselor I have now is the best I’ve had. I’m fortunate.

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