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7 Characteristics of an Effective Counselor

For those looking to become a counselor, here is a brief list of skills and qualities good counselors have.

A career in counseling gives licensed professionals the opportunity to help those who are coping with loss, depression, anxiety, addiction, relationship issues, and other everyday mental health struggles.  In order to be an effective counselor, there are many characteristics that one must possess.

Whether you’re a counseling degree student, a licensed counselor, or even if you’re starting your own counseling practice, here are some characteristics that can make an effective counselor.

1. Be organized within your practice

Effective counselors prioritize organization in their practice, which makes it much easier to provide effective counseling to both new and existing clients. Organization of paperwork, scheduling, and proper storing of confidential information will give your clients peace of mind and confidence in your counseling process. While providing your clientele with a greater sense of well-being from your organization, an effective and organized counselor will also experience a greater sense of wellness and balance within themselves, which will allow space for a more effective counseling process.

2. Practice ethically and professionally

Due to the power differential that may often be experienced in the counseling relationship, an effective counselor needs to be able to understand their duties as an ethical professional. Doctoral and master’s degree programs will include courses focused solely on ethics in healthcare, more specifically in mental health. Beyond classroom education on ethics, there are many resources for counselors to understand the ethics of the profession. Some resources include the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics, ASERVIC competencies, and mental health statutes that vary from state to state.

3. Educate yourself

If you are on the path to earning a degree in clinical mental health counseling, you’re already moving forward with one of the most important, and necessary steps needed to take to become an effective counselor. Alongside clinical experiences in the counseling field, counselor education helps mental health professionals be able to extend the scope of their work. Another great way to gain experience is to attend a counseling conference, such as the ACA Conference. Study hard, ask a lot of questions, and get all the experience you can while earning your undergraduate,  Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, or doctoral degrees.

4. Be confident in your position and responsibility

Whether you’ve been a licensed professional counselor for 20 years or you’re new to the profession, you must maintain confidence in your work. A client is looking to you for help, so use your education and experience assuredly. Good clinical supervision is also suggested and necessary to maintain competence and to review situations that may happen in practice that can lead to further education and confidence in the application of counseling skills.

5. Be respectful and non-judgmental

According to the ACA Code of Ethics, “Counselors are aware of — and avoid imposing — their own values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors” (A.4.b). As a counselor, you must respect each client’s beliefs and struggles, and never assert your personal values or beliefs. Self-disclosure must be used appropriately and in necessary situations to further build out the therapeutic relationship. Research shows that the therapeutic alliance or therapeutic relationship is one of the strongest predictors of success. A good therapeutic relationship is often defined as having trust, agreement on therapeutic goals formulated together on a treatment plan, and a collaborative approach to working towards those goals.

6. Understand the importance of communication

Every client is different, you may have some that need time to warm up to you, while some aren’t afraid to divulge their life story from the start. An effective counselor must understand that communication needs to be personalized to each client. Interpersonal skills go beyond the context of therapy itself. Consider differences in ethnicity, culture, and background, and be self-aware of personal biases that may hinder or create barriers within the therapeutic relationship. When there is a cultural difference, one can combine this characteristic with that of educating oneself, and seek out the necessary clinical supervision or take education training to gain the necessary education to effectively communicate with clients that may have different beliefs or cultural experiences. If the communication barrier still remains after seeking out supervision and additional training, an effective counselor must consider the option of a more appropriate referral outside of one’s private practice.

7. Have a flexible attitude

When working as an effective counselor, you will have to be accommodating to the unpredictability of your clientele. Some clients will be late or may cancel, along with clients that are seeking an emergency session. An effective counselor must possess a flexible attitude and unconditional positive regard to ensure your clients feel safe and understood, which in turn becomes beneficial for the development of the therapeutic alliance.


Colorado Christian University does not guarantee any job placement as a result of earning this or any other degrees offered by the university.

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