By Lauren Sydoruk

Career counsellors who are empathetic, supportive and humorous towards their clients are more likely to see positive outcomes in their sessions, new research led by Curtin University has found.

The research, published in the Journal of Career Assessment, investigated how counsellors’ behaviours help them convey empathy towards their clients and improve their working alliance.

Lead author Dr Florian Klonek, from the Centre for Transformative Work Design based at Curtin’s Future of Work Institute, said many graduates and young adults who struggled with making career decisions sought professional guidance from a career counsellor.

“Due to an evolving workforce, the demands on graduates and young adults are increasing and some will seek professional help to ensure they are prepared to make important career decisions, develop career-related goals, and improve their overall career planning,” Dr Klonek said.

“It is estimated that professional career advisors make up 0.8 per cent of the workforce, with many having no career-specific training. Our research examined how these professionals help their clients make important life decisions, by introducing a video-based observational instrument to measure their behavioural skills.

“We found that counsellors who paraphrase their client’s statements, show appreciation, and use humorous expressions, are able to express empathy and uphold a positive working alliance with their client.”

The research also found that counsellors who interrupt their client or show disruptive behaviours in sessions did not reduce the level of empathy they expressed towards their client. It is possible that such behaviours, rather than being considered as disruptive, are considered supportive if applied in a sensitive way.

Dr Klonek said that although disruptive behaviours, such as frequently interrupting the client, do not necessarily influence empathy, it may still have a negative impact on the working alliance between the client and counsellor.

“If practitioners want to focus on building a good working alliance with their client, then they should refrain from using closed questions, pointing out problems, trying to problem solve, or losing their train of thought and running off topic,” Dr Klonek said.

“Our findings may be of interest to career counsellors who wish to better understand their own career counselling approach. By using video-based equipment, counsellors can measure their own behaviour in a session and improve their way of working.”

The paper titled, ‘Opening the career counselling black box: behavioural mechanisms of empathy and working alliance,’ can be found online here.