Answer & Explanation:Q1 –
Read and complete the
“Empathetic Listening Practice Exercise.” What did you learn from the
exercise?  What went well?  What could have gone better?  How well did you feel you attuned to your
volunteer client?
Q2 –
Read and complete the “Probing and Summarizing Practice
Exercise.” What did you learn from the exercise?  What went well?  What could have gone better?  How well do you feel that your probing and
summarizing furthered the counseling process?


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Topic 2 Empathetic Listening Practice Exercise
Learning to respond empathetically is like learning any other skill. It takes practice. There are a
number of automatic responses that can get in the way of helping a client to feel understood:
1. The urge to fix it – You go into counseling because you want to be helpful. Clients
present a problem and you want to offer something to help them solve the problem.
Although helping a client develop alternative ways to respond is a part of the counseling
process, focusing on solutions too quickly will prevent you from fully understanding the
client’s situation and can make the client feel as if you do not understand. Think of times
you have gone to someone to talk about a problem and he or she offered advice before
you had a chance to really explain the problem. Often the initial presentation of a
problem is only the tip of the iceberg. The counselor needs to “unpeel the onion” to
uncover the real issues. When you attune to the client by active listening until you get a
full understanding of the client’s perspective, the client feels understood and you make
sure that the next steps are really useful to the client. We will explore later when advice
can be useful but the key to effective counseling is to always listen first.
2. The urge to get the client to take responsibility for their role in the problem – As you
will see later in the course, confrontation and challenge can be a very useful part of the
counseling process, but you have to develop a trusting relationship before a client can be
confronted and challenged. Premature challenge can create defensiveness that can
become a barrier to change. You can only effectively confront when you fully understand
the client’s perspective and that she/he feels understood. The best challenge comes from
empathy and attunement to the client’s perspective.
3. The urge to get all the details – Sometimes counselors have a voyeuristic need to get all
the details of the client’s situation. If the counselor asks too many questions about the
details of the situation, the client can become passive and wait for the next question.
When the counselor performs reflective listening, clients will often explore further on
their own. They get to tell you what is important to them about the story. The relevant
details will often emerge as you stay with the client and listen carefully to the story.
So what should the counselor do? The first step is to help the client feel safe and understood. The
best way to do this is to always start with empathic listening. The best way to train yourself to do
this well is to practice just listening and responding. The counselor listens for feelings, for the
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situation, for the needs, for the values, and for the conflicts. He or she takes everything the client
says and focuses on the core of it. Examples of appropriate counselor responses include “Let me
make sure I understand what is most painful about this for you…….,” or “You have talked about
a number of concerns but I get a sense that the conflict with your dad is what is bothering you the
Active or empathic listening also has a number of other important benefits. In a conflict
situation, if you actively listen to the other person’s perspective first and then express your own
views, you will be more likely to have a productive conflict resolution session. What often
occurs in conflict is both people trying to express their views and no one is listening. In
relationships, one common complaint is that “you just don’t listen.” Taking a few minutes to
actively listen can really improve couple communication. These skills are often taught in couple
counseling. When someone is being confusing or unclear, active listening will often help to
clarify the communication. When someone repeats something five times, it is probably because
they feel like you did not get it the first time. Active listening can immediately defuse someone
who is upset.
Ask a volunteer to let you practice with them. If you have the ability, make a short audio tape or
video of the session that can help you to examine and critique your skills so that you can improve
your performance. This exercise will take about 10 minutes. Your job during this session is just
to practice your empathy and active listening skills. Active or empathic listening involves
feeding back your understanding of what the client is saying. If you feel tempted to give advice,
ask a lot of questions, or challenge the client, bite your tongue. Using the skill of active listening
will feel really awkward and uncomfortable at first. Remember what it was like learning to ride a
bike. Stick with it no matter how awkward it feels.
Your job during these ten minutes is to fully understand your “client’s” perspective. After your
10 minutes, ask your client how well you did in really understanding their perspective. Ask if
there is anything you missed. Ask if there is any place where you misunderstood what they were
saying. Take every opportunity to practice active listening this week.
© 2014. Grand Canyon University. All Rights Reserved.
Topic 2 Probing and Summarizing Practice Exercise
During this topic, we focused on active and empathic listening. These skills are the core of the
counseling relationship. Unless a client feels understood, most of the other counseling strategies
will backfire. To be an effective counselor, you will need to continue to practice your empathic
listening skills because you will use these skills throughout the counseling relationship. When
you ask a question, reflecting back your understanding of the answer can help the session move
forward. Whenever you are not sure that you understand the client you will want to summarize
your understanding. When a client resists, you will want to paraphrase your understanding of the
resistance to let the client know that you “get” the point. When in doubt, use empathic listening.
In this session, you will practice some additional skills for clarifying what the client is saying.
In this exercise you will practice probing and summarizing skills. Limiting closed-ended
questions that have a single answer such as “yes,” “no,” “5 p.m.,” etc. will prevent the
development of a passive client who waits for another question rather than expanding on their
answer. You need to be careful that you do not become a psychological voyeur. In other words,
you need to refrain from asking questions to satisfy your curiosity when the details are not
important to where the client is going. Ask yourself, “Will this question help the client to explore
the situation more deeply?” Another caution is not to ask questions that have a judgmental edge.
“When were you going to tell her about your new job?” Often the tone of voice and body
language add the charge. You also need to be careful about “why” questions. “How did that
happen?” or “Tell me what you were thinking” may come across as less judgmental than “Why
did you do that?” Remember that empathic listening following a probe is much better than
asking another probing question right away.
You want clients to identify both the situation they are reacting to and their own reactions to the
situation. Some clients will give all the details of an event, but you have no idea what that event
meant to them. Some clients will tell you about their feelings but will never specify what they are
reacting to. Both the situation and the feelings need to be clear in order for the client to fully
explore his or her experience. The following sentences are open-ended questions designed to
draw out this information. “I understand you are angry at Mary, but I am not clear what
happened that made you so angry.” “It sounds like there was a lot happening at that party but I
am not sure how it impacted you.” “How was it for you when your mom got so mad?” The
textbook gives many examples of the use of open-ended questions to get the client to explore
more deeply.
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Summarizing can also be very helpful in pulling together many different threads, clarifying what
you have discussed, and preparing to move on. Summarizing is particularly helpful during
transitions. “We have been talking about what you have done in the past to resolve the issues
with your son. Let’s begin to brainstorm some other alternatives that you might use.” “You have
been talking about a number of issues that are a struggle for you in graduate school. Let’s see if I
understand them all before we move on.”
Ask a volunteer if you can practice your counseling skills with them for a few minutes. Ask them
to tell you about something that is bothering them. Remember to use empathic listening as well
as probing and summarizing. Your job is to use a combination of empathic listening, probing,
and summarizing to elicit a fuller picture of what is going on with that person. If you can
videotape the session with your tablet or phone, do so and watch the video. You will see where
your questions and summaries moved the session forward and when they detracted from the
session. Particularly, look for examples where your questions may have satisfied your curiosity
rather than moving the client forward. Ask your volunteer for feedback about how well they felt
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