The term consulting in psychology is defined as “a type of service performed by counselors, psychologists, and human resource workers in which they assist another person who has responsibility for a case or program” (Dougherty, 2013, p. 10). The consultation process involves three parties, namely: the consultant, the client system, and the person seeking consulting services (i.e. the client) (Dougherty, 2013). In the consultation context, the consultant is the professional and hence needs to have the necessary skills and attitudes, if at all he will be effective in his work. The skills and attitudes are in addition to the knowledge component usually acquired through professional training.
The skills needed for psychological consulting relate to the consultant’s ability to understand the challenges, issues, or problems that a client is consulting about (Roe, 2002). Such skills include the ability to observe, listen, analyze problems/issues, and communicate effectively both orally and in the written word (Roe, 2002). In this age where computers are an ordinary thing in most offices and homes, a consultant also needs computer skills, most especially if there is software used to analyze a situation that the client is facing. A competent psychological consultant, therefore, has a skill set that includes: oral communication skills; writing and documentation skills; observation skills; problem analysis skills; and team collaboration skills (Roe, 2002). The foregoing skills make him better placed to use both analytical and verbal reasoning during consultations.
Additionally, verbal fluency, usually through oral communication skills, creates an impression of professionalism. This happens if the consultant can express his thoughts clearly. Observation, writing, and communication skills enable him to have distributed attention. Distributed attention is critical in consulting because it enables the consultant to pick cues from the client’s verbal language, mannerisms, and general behavior.
The attitudes needed in psychological consulting are on the other hand related to how the consultant perceives the profession and the people who seek the services therein. Roe (2002) notes that the consultant’s attitudes relate to “accuracy, integrity, self-criticism, commitment, responsibility, respect and tolerance for others, ethical awareness, and service orientation” (p. 196). From the foregoing, it has been indicated that a successful consultant has attitudes that make him: respectful towards other people; open to criticism; involved with the issues/problems confronted by his clients; and upholds integrity.
The importance of a respectful attitude cannot be overemphasized, especially considering the need to treat people well regardless of their personal situations. Openness to criticism is an attitude that indicates that a consultant knows that being human, he too is prone to making mistakes, and as such, is open to correction. Involvement in the issues/problems confronted by the clients is an attitude that makes the consultant empathetic to the plight and circumstances of the person seeking consultancy services.
Reflection on humor, kindness, leadership, and creativity as skills and strengths in consulting
Humor, kindness, leadership, and creativity are indicated as character strengths by Park, Peterson, and Seligman (2004) in “The Values in Action (VIA) classification of strengths” (p. 604). Citing Yearly (1990, Park et al., 2004) define a character strength as the “disposition to act, desire and feel, that involves the exercise of judgment and leads to a recognizable human excellence or instance of human flourishing” (p. 604). As for character strengths, humor, kindness, leadership, and creativity are hence actions, which when used in psychology consulting lead to excellence and flourishing of the consultant, and the person seeking consultancy services.
Humor refers to a person’s ability to make other people laugh or smile. Park et al. (2004) specifically define humor as “liking to laugh and tease; bringing smiles to other people; seeing the light side; making (not necessarily telling) jokes” (p. 606). A humorous character is cheerful even in adversity, and such cheerfulness enables other people to see the light side of an issue and/or situation. In psychology, humor, especially by the consultant is important because it allows the professional to create situations where the person in need of services can see the bright side of an issue, and perhaps even laugh at situations confronting them.
As it is usually said, ‘life is never that serious’. Sometimes, people need to take a back seat, look at a situation or an issue, and laugh, if at all there is something to be laughed about. Humor is also an icebreaker, especially during the initial consultation sessions. It enables the consultant to create an atmosphere where the client is more trusting and willing to disclose more of the issues and/or challenges confronting him.
Kindness is a strength that is grouped under the virtue of humanity (Park et al., 2004). In other words, kindness is a characteristic that shows just how human one is, based on their ability to forge caring relationships with other people. In psychology consulting, kindness is vital because it enables a consultant to consider those seeking his services as worth attention. Additionally, and after understanding the issue that the client is confronted with, a kind consultant is able to affirm the person, not just out of duty, but because he appreciates the humanity of the client. Arguably, kindness enables the consultant to have a sense of social responsibility towards the person and is more likely to engage in moral reasoning while relating to the client. It is also likely that a kind consultant will be empathetic to the plight of the client.
Leadership is another strength that is worth having in psychology consulting. According to Park et al. (2004), leadership is a strength that falls under the justice virtue category. The authors further define leadership as the act of “encouraging a group of which one is a member to get things done and at the same time maintaining good relations within the group” (Park et al., 2004, p. 606).
Justice relates to the concept of upholding fairness, and viewing leadership from this perspective is likely to enable a consulting psychologist to pursue fairness in the relationships that he has with clients. As a leader, the consulting psychologist would also be willing to encourage the clients to overcome the issues or challenges that they face, and also encourage them to get things done. A person who has leadership abilities understands the importance of team dynamics, and as such, encourages people within the same group to resolve disputes amicably and maintain good group relations.
On its part, creativity is a strength identified by Park et al. (2004) as part of the wisdom and knowledge virtue. The authors specifically define it as the ability to think “of novel and productive ways to do things” (Park et al., 2004, p. 606). In consulting, creativity is arguably a critical strength since no client is similar to another. Additionally, clients (even the same client) may present with different issues, challenges or problems. Consequently, the consultant needs to possess the originality and/or ingenuity to handle each person in the right manner; and each issue, problem, or challenge effectively.
A person can use humor, kindness, leadership, and creativity as skills and strengths to succeed as a consultant because people seeking consultancy services would be drawn to a person who affirms their humanity through kindness; shows them the bright side of life and/or issues through humor; guides them to solutions through leadership, and handles each one situation and person differently through creativity. Some of these strengths are either innate and/or developed. Values in Action (VIA) Institute (2014) for example, notes that everyone can be a leader either by using their innate capabilities or by practicing leadership.
Practicing to be a leader requires a consultant (or any other person) to define what they want to achieve, identify leadership goals, establish the manner of achieving the goals, and translate goals into directions (VIA Institute, 2014). On its part, kindness is manifest in how a consultant chooses to relate with others. Once a consultant gives attention to clients and affirms their worth as human beings, they (clients) are likely to form a trusting relationship with him.
Trust enhances the probability that they will disclose their feelings more, and they will be willing to participate in exercises or follow the advice offered by the consultant. Combined, the foregoing enhances the chance of success in consulting. Overall, a consultant who uses humor, kindness, leadership, and creativity as strengths and skills in his profession, would draw people to the consultancy just because of using accommodating virtues, and would also be guaranteed good consulting outcomes because as indicated above, the clients would be more open and trusting during the consultation sessions.
Dougherty, A.M. (2013). Psychological consultation and collaboration in school and community settings (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.
Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Strengths of character and well-being. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 23 (5), 603-619.
Roe, R.A. (2002). What makes a competent psychologist? European Psychologist, 7 (3), 192-202.
Values in Action (VIA) Institute. (2014). Character strengths: know your own strengths get into character. Web.