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A Relational Edge in Counsellor Training

Group of people sitting in a circle

Tuesday 20th July 2021

The tide is slowly changing within the field of counsellor education and training. Historically the dominant approach has been a micro skills and theory-based approach that fitted well within the scientist-practitioner orientation that informed counsellor training (Miville et al. 2011).

In contrast, according to common factors research, therapeutic outcome is influenced by more than the skills and interventions of the counsellor (D’Aniello & Fife, 2020). A vital link exists between the therapeutic relationship and therapeutic outcome for clients. With a counsellor’s ‘way of being’ with their client contributing the most to the development of a strong therapeutic relationship and increased client outcomes (Geller & Greenberg, 2012). The therapeutic relationship accounts for over 30% of the change that occurs during therapy while the skills, interventions and theoretical approach of the counsellor accounts for 15%. It is now recognised that a micro skill, theory-based approach has been an important but not sufficient framework for counsellor training programs (Miville et al. (2011).

To enable counsellors-in-training to develop the relational skills and capacity necessary to form the type of relationship with clients that brings about deep change they must engage in-person during training with experienced practitioner-educators. The capacity to deeply engage relationally and therapeutically with another human being requires the counsellor-in-training to first personally experience just such a deep relational engagement with another. Face to face, in-person counsellor training programs such as the Master of Counselling Course at Morling College offer the best opportunity for the counsellor-in-training to develop their relational capacity for being deeply engaged and therapeutically present with clients.

Studying counselling online will provide counsellors-in-training the opportunity to develop theoretical knowledge and counselling micro-skills. However, online learning impacts the ability of counsellors-in-training to experience being fully attuned and present to another human being. Developing the capacity for deep relational engagement with another is negatively impacted by online learning. The experience known as ‘zoom fatigue’ has escalated since the start of the covid-19 pandemic. Online learning also has the potential to trigger zoom fatigue in counsellors-in-training, further hindering their ability to develop the capacity for therapeutic presence and the relational skills necessary to form deep therapeutic relationships that bring about long-term change for clients.


D’Aniello, C., & Fife, S.T. (2020). A 20-year review of common factors research in marriage and family therapy: A mixed-methods content analysis. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 46(4), 701-718.

Geller, S.M., & Greenberg, L.S. (2012). Therapeutic presence: A mindful approach to effective therapy. American Psychological Association.

Miville, M.L., Redway, J.A.K., & Hernandez, E. (2011). Microskills, trainee competence and therapy outcomes: Learning to work in circles. The Counseling Psychol

Written by Margaret Welch

Margaret commenced as an adjunct lecturer in counselling in 2008, and since 2013 has been on faculty as a lecturer, Associate Dean (Counselling) and now Dean of Faculty. Margaret has lectured in a wide range of subject areas within the suite of counselling awards. As Dean of Faculty Margaret's focus is to develop a strong supportive team culture, to expand the provision of Counselling and Chaplaincy training at Morling and extend the College's reputation for providing high quality and transformative counselling and chaplaincy training.

Margaret Welch's Blog