Counselling – Active Listening Skills

As an Accidental Counsellor, are you often wondering whether what you’re saying to the client is the right thing or whether you are headed in the right direction?

I’m recording this at the end of the 1st day of the Accidental Counsellor Training in Dubbo where I’m working with a great group of  School staff.

What is Active listening?

One of the things that I’d like to reflect upon today is this whole concept of being able to do reflective listening or active listening as it may otherwise be known. What we mean by this concept is to be able to pick up what the client is saying and reflect it or mirror it back to them.

How does a speaker know if we listened or understood them?

The whole idea of being able to reflect back and pace the client has a lot to do with that so that the speaker feels heard or understood. They get to hear their inner thoughts out loud reflected back to them and that’s really some of the basic counselling skills that we teach, but we also go a little bit further. Often times, we hear dark, disturbing thoughts and emotions from our clients. As Accidental Counsellors, we can feel quite perturbed or anxious by that. As an example, if someone wants to say to your client,

“I’m hopeless. I’m worthless. Nothing ever works out for me,” we can be tempted to rush in there and to say things like, “You know, you need to believe in yourself. There’s lots of people who think that you are a great person.” And one of the School staff at Dubbo really labeled that perfectly when he said, “It’s false hope or false belief.”

Often times, in my teaching, I say, “We need to be able to enter the conversation in our client’s head.” Let’s not be scared by that. If they say things like, “I’m worthless. I’m no good. Nothing will ever work out. Everyone hates me.” You know, those dark, disturbing thoughts. To be able to say something like this to your client, it must be really difficult for you walking around believing all that stuff about yourself; believing that you’re worthless, believing that you’re no good. Now, people get a little bit worried about this and they think, “Oh no. But if we say that and if we repeat that back, isn’t it going to make things worse for the client?” And I want to say, “No. Look, you’re not saying anything that’s different from what’s already going on in your client’s mind and what they’re already feeling in their body.”

Always Listen First

Being able to reflect that back can be a soothing balm. It can be the antidote to feeling really worked up. Can you imagine someone being able to open up, say to you and reveal to you those deep, dark thoughts? And for you to actually to be able to hear it, understand it and empathize with them around that can be really quite a relief for people. They’re already thinking this often on a daily basis. So, my message to Accidental Counsellors is it’s okay to join those deep, dark thoughts; to be able to go in there and reflect that back and let the client know that you understand

that they’re thinking those deep, dark thoughts. And of course, in our other videos and in the training, we also talk about what I would call the pivot and how to help the client refocus on how they would like life to be. I hope you can look at the other videos I’ve talked about this. My main message for Accidental Counsellors today is…

Your clients are already thinking those things, those deep, dark thoughts. There’s no need to be worried about repeating that back to them. They’re already there.

And, being able to let the speaker know that you understand that those thoughts are there can be quite a relief for them. They finally feel that someone understands that I’ve got these deep, dark thoughts and emotions in my mind and body. Thank you for joining me for this video blog today. To find out more about the Accidental Counsellor Training, simply go to and I hope to see you at one of the trainings around Australia.

Here are testimonials from attendees at the Accidental Counsellor Training in Dubbo 2013

I really appreciated you sharing parts of your life with us. The role plays in the Accidental Counsellor Training helped me realise how effective your methods can be.

Andrew Shannon, Dubbo School of Distance Education

The Accidental Counsellor Training offers practical strategies that can underpin effective communication in the school context.

Janelle Dowton, Dubbo School of Distance Education

I find the Accidental Counsellor Training useful because it gave me confidence to approach situations.

Kerrie Chopping, Orange High School

I strongly recommend Rocky to present this Accidental Counsellor Training to the staff – I found it fantastic. I can’t believe what I have
1) confirmed what I am doing is right and
2) what I learned to do in a different and more effective way. Thanks Rocky!

Sharron Lee Bulley, Narromine High School

Thank you Rocky! The Accidental Counsellor Training was definitely a worthwhile course, and wish I could have done it BEFORE I started in my role as Pastoral Care Coordinator. I now have some excellent strategies to take back to my school, to hopefully benefit my students (which is what this is all about!) Will keep in touch and let you know how I go!

Belle Wheaton, St Matthews Catholic School

I liked the reality of the examples. Having a ‘teacher’ background gave the session’s credibility. The Accidental Counsellor Training was a very enjoyable course, well worth attending, worth every cent. Thanks DET for the professional learning funding.

Kim Baker, Kelso High Campus

The Accidental Counsellor workshop has been of great value with practical ideas focussed on people finding their own solutions. Opportunities to practice skills is very useful.

Anne Neville, Anson Street School

The Accidental Counsellor Training reinforced what I am doing already but it is fine-tuning to enhance what I know.


The Accidental Counsellor Training was fantastic. Thank you. I am really looking forward to applying all I have heard and learnt. Wish me and my kids luck.

Barbara Hughes, Parkes High School

The practical component in the Accidental Counsellor Training made it very easy to understand.


The Accidental Counsellor Training made me re-evaluate the power of what we say, how we say things to make positive behaviour change.

Erika Mullholland, Walgett High School

The Accidental Counsellor Training definitely has provided me with a new set of skills to deal with students.

Kali Ratu, Walgett High School

I was highly engaged in the Accidental Counsellor Training the whole time. Only relevant information was provided. I feel like I’m going back to my school with a set of tools, skills, and ideas to research and think about. I am really excited about what I can share with others. I am motivate to use this in the classroom, as girls advisor and in my personal life. Thank you for changing my perspectives and listening skills. Thanks.

Anne Glynn, Forbes High School

The Accidental Counsellor Training was useful and entertaining. Thanks!

Belinda Haigh, Dubbo School of Distance Education

The Accidental Counsellor Training was sheer, bloody brilliance; practical, useful, do-able. I can understand why it works.

Allyn Smith, Dubbo School of Distance Education

The Accidental Counsellor Training was really very helpful. The best training I have done in relation to student welfare in 30 years!

Bernadette Wood, Denison College Bathurst High Campus

Hi Rocky,
I just wanted to let you know that yesterday I had the chance to put the Accidental Counsellor training into practice. I have a student who suffers depression and anxiety and is a school refuser. She hates school, hates teachers and is doing no work. No one has been able to get through to her.

We went to visit her yesterday, 3 teachers; 2 spoke with Mum. I spoke with the students. As soon as we turned up, the student made a point of keeping an almost hostile distance. One word answers. Head down, covering her face. Buried in her mobile phone.

After throwing out a little bait to try and get her to just slightly engage in a conversation I managed to sit next to her and give her the opportunity to talk about herself. I joined her conversation. I didn’t challenge anything she said, but rather agreed that it must be awful to be in her situation. She really started changing her attitude and I think was a bit taken aback that i didn’t challenge her or tell her what to do.

I’ll cut this a bit short.

By the end of the conversation she was making eye contact, telling me her future plans (incredible) what she sees herself doing in her life and said (and this is the incredible bit) “I know I’m going to have to start doing my schoolwork”. That was huge. The only things she’d ever said about school previously was how much she hated it and there was no way she was going to do it. Ever. Full Stop.

It was huge. We aren’t fully there yet, but this is the first and only hopeful and positive step towards re-engaging her in her work.

So thanks. It works.

And I NEVER write testimonials. That’s how impressed I am.


Allyn Smith, Teacher – Music & Entertainment | Year 8 Adviser | Dubbo School of Distance Education

Attendees from the following schools joined the Accidental Counsellor Training in Dubbo.

  • Walgett High School
  • Narromine High School
  • Orange High School
  • Forbes High School
  • Dubbo School of Distance Education
  • Nyngan High School
  • St Matthews Catholic School
  • Kelso High Campus
  • Denison College Bathurst High Campus
  • Anson Street School
  • Parkes High

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