Welcome to this open-source resource for counsellor educators and learners. This ebook provides a conceptual and applied practice foundation for building responsive relationships with clients in counselling. It offers a variety of experiential learning activities, commentaries, and videos on different topics, and it guides readers through applied practice skills learning processes.

A. Conceptual Overview

This ebook has been designed to disrupt how counsellors often think about the initial phases of the counselling process and the purpose, and use of, counselling microskills and techniques. We also propose reconsideration of how counsellor educators position and teach counselling skills in support of culturally responsive, client-centred, and socially just counselling. We have written this ebook for the graduate students in our counselling program, with the hope that it will also contribute to other counselling programs, practitioners, and the profession as a whole. In this introduction, we explain the rationale for our attempt to turn the traditional approach to counselling skills courses inside out by starting from the perspective of, and centralizing, responsive client–counsellor relationships.

Most counsellor education programs include a course on basic interpersonal communication that focuses on counselling microskills. A quick internet search of counselling microskills reveals a range of communication skills designed to (a) provide structure or organization to the client–counsellor conversation, (b) encourage the client to share information with the counsellor, (c) enhance the counsellor’s ability to listen effectively and make sense out of what the client is saying, and (d) communicate back to the client what they have heard in a way that enhances the client’s self-understanding. As Figure 1 suggests, many of the traditional communication skills models approach client–counsellor conversations as if they involved the passing of information back and forth between two individuals within the decontextualized microcosm of the counselling session. In this model, counselling microskills and techniques are treated as value-neutral and, at least to some degree, universal. The relationship between counsellor and client was also envisioned as more instrumental and contractual. Bordin (1979) positioned the working alliance as a foundation for therapeutic outcomes, highlighting three essential features: (a) agreement on counselling goals, (b) agreement on the tasks to support attainment of those goals, and (c) a bond of trust between counsellor and client. Many counselling skills courses in counsellor education programs in Canada were built upon these foundations (Jerry & Collins, 2005).

Figure 1

Linear Communication

This image has two androgenous human figures (heads and shoulders) leaning slightly towards each other. Each has a talk bubble above their heads to suggest conversation. There are two arrows, one each direction, running between the two figures to suggest back and forth communication.

With the emergent influence of counselling theories, such as narrative therapy (Freeman & Combs, 1996; White & Epston, 1990), that focus on meaning-making as a central function of the counselling processes, there was a shift in how communication between counsellor and client was conceptualized. These theoretical models were firmly embedded in the constructivist paradigm, which challenged the more linear, positivist view of communication and argued that meaning is co-constructed through a collaboration between counsellor and client. In other words, what emerges from the conversational exchange is something new (e.g., a deeper understanding of meaning and values, a greater appreciation for affect and sensations, a different lens on interpersonal interactions). Communication was reconceptualized as an active, generative, collaborative, and constructive process to which counsellor and client both contribute. Figure 2 attempts to illustrate this collaborative, co-constructive, fluid, creative, and iterative communication process. There was also a concurrent shift in the nature and importance of the client–counsellor relationship, which was strongly influenced by research into the common factors in therapeutic outcomes. Second only to client factors, relationship factors emerged as one of the most significant contributors to counselling success (Duncan, 2014; Feinstein et al., 2015), supporting the emphasis on the therapeutic relationship in other counselling models (e.g., feminist therapy, relational-cultural therapy) (Brown, 2010; Enns et al., 2012; Jordan, 2010).

Figure 2

Co-Constructive Conversation

This image has two androgenous human figures (heads and shoulders) leaning slightly towards each other. A series of overlapping talk bubbles appear above the heads of each individual. Between them a series of overlapping file symbols suggest suggest a shared generation of meaning in contrast to a back and forth passing of information.

Although the client–counsellor relationship shifted to the foreground, many counselling skills courses continued to prioritize counselling microskills and techniques over relationship factors. Connections between these mechanisms of communication and some of what Rogers (1961) had first asserted to be core conditions for therapeutic change (e.g., empathy, congruence, unconditional positive regard) provided an anchoring point for counselling microskills in the counsellor and relational factors in counselling outcomes (Duncan, 2014; Feinstein et al., 2015). The multicultural counselling movement that began in the early 1990s with an emphasis on ethnic diversity (Arredondo et al., 1996; Sue et al., 1992), grew to embrace a broader definition of culture (Collins, 2018b; Ratts et al., 2016), and added the lens of both counsellor and client personal cultural identities to the process of interpersonal communication. The client and counsellor were both acknowledged as complex cultural beings, whose contributions to the shared processes of meaning-making in Figure 2 are deeply embedded in both counsellor and client worldviews, values, and views of health and healing (Collins, 2018a, Paré, 2013). In most of the literature, a cultural context was placed around conversations about counselling skills, techniques, and relational practices. There was a shift in appreciation of the nature and role of the therapeutic relationship as inextricably intertwined with effective communication across cultural contexts.

More recently, the social justice counselling movement in Canada (Audet & Paré, 2018; Collins, 2018b; Ginsberg & Sinacore, 2015) and its repurposing of ecological systems theory (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, 1989) have expanded understanding of the multilayered influences on the counselling relationship and client–counsellor conversations. Figure 3 is intended to illustrate the ways in which the contexts of each person’s lived experiences, at the microlevel (i.e., individuals, couples, or families), mesolevel (i.e., schools, organizations, or communities), and macrolevel (i.e., broader social, economic, and political systems), become an integral part of the client–counsellor interaction (Collins, 2018a). By widening the lens through which we view this interaction, counselling microskills and techniques fade into the background and become supporting actors in the dynamic, contextualized, and fluid relationship between counsellor and client. Engaging these broader contexts makes more transparent the necessity of just relational practices and values-based discourses (Audet & Paré, 2018; Paré, 2013).

Figure 3

Contextualized, Relational, Growth-Fostering Communication

This image has two androgenous human figures (heads and shoulders) leaning slightly towards each other. A series of overlapping talk bubbles appear above the heads of each individual. Between them is a graphic of the globe encirled by multicolour human figures holding hands. A series of ovals around the counsellor and the client indicate the broader contexts of their lives. Their contextual ovals overlap in the centre suggesting the influence of these contexts on their communication and relationship building.

Positioning the client–counsellor relationship in the foreground raises the question of what makes for a therapeutic or growth-fostering relationship that has the potential to support positive outcomes in counselling. There is a recent body of literature on evidenced-based relationships (Norcross & Wampold, 2018) that builds on the earlier common factors research, and foregrounds relational responsivity. In other words: In what ways can the relational practices of the counsellor and the nature of the therapeutic relationships shift, adapt, or be altered altogether in response to the specific cultural identities, contexts, values, worldviews, and needs of each individual client? This central question forms the foundation for this ebook. We will attempt to answer this question by systematically integrating (a) the conceptual and theoretical influences on responsive relationships; (b) the ways in which counselling processes support, and are supported by, responsive relationships; (c) the ways in which specific counselling microskills and techniques can be employed in service of responsive relationships; and (d) the importance of reflective practice in ensuring client-centred, responsive relationships and counselling processes.

By stepping back and looking at the client–counsellor relationship through the lenses of cultural responsivity and just practice (Collins, 2018c; Audet & Paré, 2018; Paré, 2013), we intend to challenge the embeddedness of counselling practices and processes in the eurocentric worldview. We will challenge some of the language that is often used in counselling that does not fully support client-centred, contextualized, responsive relationships and practices. Our goal is to equip you with the competencies (e.g., attitudes, knowledge, skills) that will enable you to optimize the growth-fostering potential of the client–counsellor relationship, to appreciate the interplay of client and counsellor cultural identities and social locations on the contextualized challenges that clients face, to embrace and support their self- and culturally-defined preferred futures, and to nurture collaboration with clients at all points in the counselling process.

B. Challenging our Assumptions

Many of you come with experience in various helping roles; you may also bring previous counselling skills training. We invite you to suspend, as much as possible, any tendency to foreclose on the ideas and skills presented in this resource. To a large degree, we may provide a refinement of what you already know. However, we also aim to deconstruct, disrupt, and dismantle certain approaches to relating that may be less helpful to many clients.

Through many years of teaching, research, and practice in counselling, we have learned new things from each other, from those with whom we collaborate, and from the literature we have reviewed, all of which have contributed to this ebook. Some of the evolution in our own thinking has been outlined here in the introduction as a context for what is to come. In creating this resource, we have frequently had to stop and rethink some of our own assumptions, language, and practices. We have been very deliberate also to highlight diverse perspectives and lived experiences through the voices of other contributors to the conceptual and applied practice elements. We are grateful for the opportunity to write this ebook, because of the transformation it has generated in us. Your journey will likely differ from ours, but we invite you to embrace the direction this resource leads you in with openness and curiosity.

We have not set out to write a textbook on multicultural counselling or counselling skills. We will anchor the relational practices, counselling processes, microskills and techniques, and reflective practices we introduce in the theoretical and research literature. However, this is primarily intended as an applied practice resource. The learning processes focus not only on what to do in counselling, but how to do it! We have included video, audio, and other multimedia formats to enhance your learning and to bring the concepts and applied practices to life. We have also encouraged our colleagues to contribute reflections on their own lived experiences and work with their clients to ground the elements we introduce in real-life, applied practice examples wherever possible.

What excites us about this ebook!

Assumptions about our audience

We have introduced a variety of voices throughout this ebook, through the rich contributions of colleagues from diverse cultural communities who work with a broad spectrum of clients. It is our hope that, in doing so, each person who reads this ebook sees themselves reflected in the stories and perspectives that arise through those contextualized voices. We assume that the audience of learners who will access this resource are equally diverse. In keeping with Collins (2018), we embrace an inclusive definition of cultural identities defined by age, ability, Indigeneity, ethnicity, social class, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, and spirituality.

As the reader, we invite your active awareness of the relative positioning of counsellors and clients on the continuum of privilege–marginalization (Ratts et al., 2015), as well as the interplay of your own cultural identities and social locations with the voices of the authors and contributors. It is our hope to create a culturally inclusive and broadly applicable resource for all counsellors, while at the same time foregrounding voices that continue to be marginalized in counselling and psychology.

C. Rethinking the Learning Process

The creation of this resource was a fluid, organic, integrative process that supports the instructional design approach that we have tried to embrace. As you move through the ebook, we invite you to reflect on the learning process you are engaged in and the ways in which we have structured this resource to support your active engagement in continued professional development. We provide some tips to optimize your learning experience in the video below.

Learning through sound bites

This video provides some glimpses into our creative processes and the intentions behind the way this ebook is structured.

C. A Collaborative and Open-Source Project

This is an open-source guide, and you are strongly encouraged to link to, copy, and repurpose portions of this resource within the boundaries of the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike Creative Commons license. You must cite the author of a particular commentary, activity, audio or video when you use this material, and you may not reproduce any of it for commercial purposes. The one exception to this is use in teaching and training activities (e.g., college and university courses, conference presentations, workplace training) that are not published as stand-alone, for-profit works. For example, you might include the following note in reference to a contribution by Allison Reeves.

Note. From Culturally safe practice, by A. Reeves, in “Fostering Responsive Therapeutic Relationships: Repositioning Microskills and Techniques in Service of Just Conversations,” by G. Ko, M. Anderson, S. Collins, and Y. Yasynskyy (Eds.), 2021. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

The ebook authors/editors move between their collaborative voice (for which reference to the ebook suffices) and their individual voices. Contributions from additional authors are placed in text boxes in each chapter. Below are suggested citations as they might appear in a note beneath content that is copied or adapted from this resource without reference to a specific author.

Note. Adapted from “Fostering Responsive Therapeutic Relationships: Repositioning Microskills and Techniques in Service of Just Conversations,” by G. Ko, M. Anderson, S. Collins, and Y. Yasynskyy (Eds.), 2021. ( Copyright 2021 by Counselling Concepts. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.


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