Four Techniques for Active Listening

By Jeannette Issa


"You have two ears and one mouth for a reason-so you can listen twice as hard as you speak."


Counselors sometimes think that because they are educated in counseling they have more knowledge than their clients; however, the client is the expert about his or her own life. It's important for a counselor to listen so that he or she can understand not just the words, but the underlying message of what someone is saying.

Below are four techniques for active listening:

Cognitive Psychology

1. Paraphrase

To paraphrase is to restate the same information the client has said in different words. Paraphrasing allows the client to focus on the content of what he or she is saying and come to terms with it.

2. Summarize

Summarizing means that the counselor concisely reiterates several of the major highlights from the client's discussion. By tying together the different elements from a client's session, summarizing can help a counselor review overall progress. Summarizing can also allow the counselor and the client to recognize a theme in what the client is saying.

3. Clarify

When a counselor asks for clarification, they are asking a client to explain an element of the discussion that was vague. Examples of clarifying questions include: I am not sure I quite understand; or do you mean that...? These questions give the client a chance to elaborate and allow the counselor the opportunity to check the accuracy of the client's statements.

4. Reflect

Reflecting is probably the most important listening technique. It is the technique that provides room for interpretation. To reflect on what the client has said is to rephrase the affect, or feelings, within the client's message. Reflecting gives the client the opportunity to hear his or her own thoughts in a different way and helps the client to become aware of and acknowledge his or her feelings. Reflecting also helps a client feel that he or she is understood and that you have paid attention to what he or she has said.


Active listening involves being truly engaged in a client's message and listening more than talking. It helps a counselor to both understand the client and to subtly challenge the client to pay attention to his or her own words and hopefully begin to make some changes.