A counsellor can encourage a client to continue to talk, open up more freely and explore issues in greater depth by providing accurate responses through encouraging, paraphrasing and summarising. Responding in this way informs the client that the counsellor has accurately heard what they have been saying. Encouragers, paraphrases and summaries are basic to helping a client feel understood.

Encouragers, also known as intentional listening, involve fully attending to the client, thus allowing them to explore their feelings and thoughts more completely. Paraphrasing and summarising are more active ways of communicating to the client that they have been listened to. Summarising is particularly useful to help clients organise their thinking.

The diagram below shows how encouragers, paraphrases and summaries are on different points of a continuum, each building on more of the information provided by the client to accurately assess issues and events.


Encouragers — Encouragers are a variety of verbal and non-verbal ways of prompting clients to continue talking.

Types of encouragers include:

  1. Non-verbal minimal responses such as a nod of the head or positive facial expressions
  2. Verbal minimal responses such as “Uh-huh” and “I hear what you’re saying”
  3. Brief invitations to continue such as “Tell me more”

Encouragers simply encourage the client to keep talking. For a counsellor to have more influence on the direction of client progress they would need to make use of other techniques.

Paraphrases — To paraphrase, the counsellor chooses the most important details of what the client has just said and reflects them back to the client. Paraphrases can be just a few words or one or two brief sentences.

Paraphrasing is not a matter of simply repeating or parroting what the client has stated. Rather it is capturing the essence of what the client is saying, through rephrasing. When the counsellor has captured what the client is saying, often the client will say, “That’s right” or offer some other form of confirmation.

Example: I have just broken up with Jason. The way he was treating me was just too much to bear. Every time I tried to touch on the subject with him he would just clam up. I feel so much better now.

Paraphrase: You feel much better after breaking up with Jason.

Summaries — Summaries are brief statements of longer excerpts from the counselling session. In summarising, the counsellor attends to verbal and non-verbal comments from the client over a period of time, and then pulls together key parts of the extended communication, restating them for the client as accurately as possible.

A check-out, phrased at the end of the summary, is an important component of the statement, enabling a check of the accuracy of the counsellor’s response. Summaries are similar to paraphrasing, except they are used less frequently and encompass more information.