Module 5: Attending and Empathy Skills

Learning Outcomes

Awareness and Knowledge

  • Develop a solid understanding of how attending behavior, empathy, and selective attention form the basis of effective, collaborative, problem-solving conversations.

Skills and Actions

  • Increase your skill in listening to others, and communicate that interest.
  • Establish empathy with others.
  • Adapt your attending patterns to the needs of individual, and cultural, styles of listening and talking.


A note from Jon Boyd on the next phase of this course...

You have now finished the section of the course which addresses theoretical frameworks that I (and others) find useful in practice as a social worker.

  • The CASW Social Work Code of Ethics (ensures that social workers do right by clients);
  • Generalist Eclectic Direct Social Work Practice (emphasizes that social workers look at the big picture and find eclectic ways to help clients; not to fit clients into models);
  • Ecological Systems Theory (assesses a person in their situation);
  • The Strengths Perspective (understands clients as resilient, adaptive, who can heal, grow and develop, make their own decisions, and solve their own problems);
  • Common Factors (emphasizes the importance of hope, therapeutic alliance, and strengths of clients and their resources, in order to facilitate change across models);
  • Therapeutic Alliance (one of the most important variables in counselling outcomes, regardless of theoretical orientation of the counsellor, model or techniques used); 
  • Motivation (starting where the client is);
  • Basic Communication (verbal and non verbal) (how to communicate effectively);
  • Problem Solving:
    • a) practical: logical and evidence-informed;
    • b) intuitive: elevation of art, creativity, and practice wisdom, to essential places in professional functioning; and
  •  10 basic counselling techniques (a summary of what to do as a social worker).

This section of the course is about acquiring direct counselling skills from the intentional interviewing model by Ivey, Ivey, and Zalaquett (2018),  which builds on the theoretical frameworks studied up to this point in the course. You will explore and practice:

  • Attending skills (how we listen nonverbally);
  • Observation skills (verbal and nonverbal) (what we see, hear, and perceive);
  • Questions (to structure the interview);
  • Active listening (to show we are listening with our words);
  • Noting and reflecting feelings (to be aware of, and assist clients express feelings when appropriate); and
  • The 5 stage interview process (how to organize an interview primarily with listening skills).

What I want to especially draw your attention to, going forward, is the strengths perspective which emphasizes that clients are viewed as resilient, able to heal, adapt, grow and develop, are capable of making their own choices and decisions, and solve their own problems (Saleeby, 1997). This defines the role of a counsellor as more of a facilitator/consultant.

Many student counsellors (and beginning counsellors) tend to offer suggestions and directions to clients instead of assisting clients in finding their own way, whatever that is, depending on the uniqueness of each individual in their situation.

 This section, I hope, will demystify the counselling process as much as possible.

This week’s reading will familiarize you with attending and empathy skills, and the significant importance of these skills in collaborative problem-solving conversations.  

Pay attention to the descriptions of attending skills, including international perspectives, explanations of empathy, and the evidence from neuroscience about the effects (of attending and empathy) on brain functioning.

Readings and Resources

The following assigned resources will help you to gain awareness and knowledge on this week’s topic:

  • Ivey, A., Ivey M., & Zalaquett, C. (2018). Chapter 3: Attending and empathy skills (pp.  56-82). In Intentional Interviewing and counselling: facilitating client development in a multicultural society. Belmont CA: Brooks/Cole. (Course text)
  • Garcia, R(Developer and Producer). (2008). In Treatment. HBO TV series:  Season 1: Sophie Week 1. [27 minutes] 

Perspectives from the Field

In Practice

Attending may be the most important skill-set to learn in counselling.

Recall that Brill (2002) writes that 2/3 of the meaning of communication is non-verbal. Ivey (2018) points to further research which indicates that number may approach 100%.

In practice, I attempt to give clients 100% of my attention during a session (eye contact; vocal qualities; body language/facial expression; and verbal tracking; see role play video).

I do my best to provide clients with a safe place to tell their story in an uninterrupted fashion.


Activities and Assignments

Discussion Activities

Activity 1: Rate and Reflect on Attending and Empathy Skills

After you have viewed the assigned In Treatment video, rate the appropriateness of Paul’s attending skills (1=low; 10=high) for each category listed below. Post your findings (brief; point form acceptable).

  1. Eye contact
  2. Vocal qualities
  3. Verbal tracking
  4. Body language/facial expression

You are also encouraged to comment on the post of others. Be sure to communicate respectfully, whether you agree or not.

(2 marks)

Activity 2: Practice Attending and Empathy Skills With Others

During this week, be aware of your attending skills with others.

Post your observations to these tasks (brief; point form is acceptable). (1 mark)

Activity 3: Module 5 Reflection

What will you take away from this week’s topics? Post your observations (brief; point form is acceptable). (1 mark)

You are also encouraged to comment on the posts of others. Be sure to communicate respectfully, whether you agree or disagree.