The Character Traits of a Good Counsellor: finding a good match when you need therapy

Counselling is a person to person connection, there should be an authentic therapeutic relationship between the counsellor and the client. 

If counsellors hide behind their professional roles then clients may hide their true selves from the counsellor.  If counsellors work with techniques alone and leave their own reactions and self out of the therapeutic process they can easily become ineffective counsellors.  The counsellor’s own genuineness can have a great benefit to the relationship.  Counsellors therefore always need to look at their own lives and also make the necessary changes they want in order to model their behaviour to the clients and respond to the clients not just as a professional but as a fellow traveller understanding the difficulty of change. 

Research indicates that the personhood of the counsellor is a primary factor in successful therapy and the personhood is intertwined with the outcome of therapy or any psychotherapy goal.  Clients place more value on the personality of the counsellor than on the specific techniques used.  The methods used needs to support the therapeutic relationship. 

Personal characteristics of an effective Counsellor:

  • Have a strong identity, they know who they are and what they are capable of and respect and appreciate themselves, there is self-worth that leads to strength.
  • Are open to change, they make decisions about how they would like to change and they constantly work towards becoming the person they want to be.
  • They make choices that are life-oriented, they are committed to living fully rather than merely existing.
  • They are authentic, sincere and honest, they do not hide behind rigid roles.
  • Good counsellors have a good sense of humour, they are able to put the events of life in perspective and they can also laugh at their own flaws and contradictions.
  • Good counsellor make mistakes, realize their mistakes, yet they do not dwell on mistakes, they rather learn in order to grow.
  • They generally live in the present, not stuck in the past and not fixated on the future.
  • Appreciate the influence of culture and are sensitive to unique differences.
  • Have a sincere interest in the welfare of others, respect, care and trust and have a real valuing of others.
  • Possess effective interpersonal skills, they are able to enter the world of others without getting lost in it.
  • Good counsellors become deeply involved in their work and find meaning in it, they can accept the rewards from their work yet does not become slaves to it.
  • They are passionate people who are encouraged to pursue their dreams and passions.
  • They are able to maintain healthy boundaries, they don’t carry the problems of their clients with them and they know how to say no which enables them to maintain balance in their lives.

Counsellors realize the need for assistance and therapy in their own lives, they see this as a strength and not a weakness.  Counsellors also value the therapeutic process more if they are open to their own therapeutic assistance, they learn more about patience and tolerance.  Counsellors can have their own personal blocks such as loneliness, power, death, problems with intimate relationships, personal therapy can be important in healing the healer.  It is difficult to take clients any further than what the counsellor him or herself has already gone. 

The role of values in Counselling:

Our values are core beliefs that influence how we act, both in our personal life and professional lives. The counsellor role is to create an environment in which clients can examine their thoughts, feelings and actions, and to empower them to arrive at their own solutions to the problems they face.  It is not beneficial to give advice or to give clients your answers to their questions about life.   The counsellor has the role to provide a safe and inviting environment in which clients can explore their values and their behaviour.  It is unethical for counsellors to impose their own values on their clients.  Clients are in a vulnerable position and require understanding and support from a counsellor rather than judgement.  Counselling is about working with clients within the framework of their value system.  The client has the right to decide if he or she wants to work with the counsellor and the client needs to evaluate if the counsellor will meet his or her expectations and treatment goals.   Therapy and interventions must be consistent and in line with the clients’ culture and beliefs. 

Counsellors from all cultures need to examine their expectations, attitudes, biases, and assumptions about the counselling process and about persons from diverse groups.  Effective counsellors are aware of their positive and emotional feelings and reactions towards people from other racial and ethnical groups that may negatively affect the relationship.  They seek to examine and to understand the world from their client’s point of view,  they respect clients religious and spiritual beliefs and values.  In areas where they lack knowledge, they seek resources to assist them. 

Issues faced by beginner counsellors:

  • Dealing with anxiety, especially when meeting a client for the first time, therefore, it is important for beginning counsellors to openly discuss their anxiety with supervisors or peers.
  • Inexperienced counsellors might find it difficult to just be themselves and to know how much self-disclosure is necessary. The level of being genuine and presence enables counsellors to connect to our clients and establish an effective therapeutic relationship.
  • Perfectionism needs to be avoided, both beginning and experienced counsellors make mistakes, no person can know everything and no counsellor is perfectly skilled.
  • Inexperienced counsellors need to learn that they need to be honest about their limitations and need to learn when and how to make referrals when it is out of their scope.
  • Beginning counsellors might find silence challenging, yet it needs to be understood as silence can have many different meanings. Silence can be refreshing or overwhelming and with experience, counsellors will learn how to assess the meaning of silence.
  • To deal with demands from clients can be difficult, they may want to see the counsellor more often or for longer than planned, or socially, and mostly they want the counsellor to tell them how to solve their problems, therefore expectations and boundaries needs to be clear from the beginning of the process.
  • Tolerating ambiguity, results can take time and often clients may seem to get worse before they start to get better, in some cases therapeutic gain can be slow.
  • Beginner counsellors need to become aware of their or their clients’ countertransference, working with clients can affect counsellors in a personal way and the counsellors own vulnerabilities and countertransference are bound to surface. Beginning counsellors need to learn how to let clients go and not carry them in their personal lives between sessions.  Yet during the counselling session, the counsellor needs to be fully and actively present.  Emotionally intense relationships that do develop between counsellors and clients can tap into the counsellors own unresolved issues, however, the counsellors need to realise it is pain belonging to the client and it should not be carried for them, otherwise the counsellors will become ineffective in their work.
  • Beginning counsellors need to understand the value of humour, therapy is a responsible endeavour but it does not need to be deadly serious, both client and counsellor can enrich a relationship through humour.
  • Sharing responsibility with the client, the outcome is the achievement of the client mostly as they need to make their own choices to better their lives.
  • It is easy to give advice, in the beginning, the counsellor needs to realize that they should refrain from giving advice and they need to define their role as counsellor to the client.
  • In the beginning, counsellors need to learn how to use their techniques appropriately and have the duty to develop their own counselling style.
  • It is important that the vitality as a person and professional is maintained as the single most important instrument in counselling is the person whom the counsellor is and the most powerful technique is realness. Learn as a counsellor how to take care of yourself, how do you want to take care of others if you can’t take care of yourself?. 
  • All counsellors need to realize that they have control over whether they get burned out or not, stressful events cannot always be controlled but the counsellors have a great deal of control over how they interpret and react to these events. Self-monitoring is the first step in self-care.  By being in tune with themselves, by feeling centred and having a sense of personal power, the foundation for integrating personal experiences with professional experiences exist.

The Scope of Mental Health Counsellors in South Africa:

The HPCSA mentions the following registered counsellors as able to practise as counsellors:

  • Mental Health assistants
  • Registered Counsellors
  • Psychometrists
  • Clinical Psychologists
  • Counselling Psychologists
  • Educational Psychologists
  • Research Psychologists
  • Industrial Psychologists


Counsellors should ask themselves “What do I personally have to offer others who are struggling to find their way?” and “Am I doing in my own life what I may be urging others to do?”  As a Counsellor, you can acquire extensive theoretical and practical knowledge and can make that knowledge available to your clients yet you also bring yourself as a person.  If counsellors are to promote change in their client’s lives counsellor need to be open for change in their own lives.  This willingness to attempt to live in accordance with what you teach and thus to be a positive model for your clients is what makes you a therapeutic person. 

Annesta Hofer Counselling Services Newsletter

Annesta Hofer Counselling Services provides professional therapy and tailored made counseling programmes with the aim of enhancing behavioral modification and emotional healing. 

I am committed to providing you with monthly informative articles that are linked to the work that I do.  Please subscribe to the newsletter in order to receive this valuable information. 

Post Traumatic Stress, Grief, Depression, Addiction and any Emotional struggle remain the focus of my practice,  yet I believe in combining animal and nature therapy with cognitive behavioral therapy in order to deal with difficult issues in a more meaningful and joyful manner. 


Annesta Hofer                                                                                

Behavioural Therapist/ Clinical Social Worker

BSW Honours (Social Work and Psychology)


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