Counseling Interview (Definition, Types & Stages)

Communication in counseling is as important as the counseling encounter itself.

This is because the bulk of the intervention that counseling provides comes through communication— either what the client communicates and how it makes him feel or what the counselor communicates and how it makes the client feel.

Interviewing is a major aspect of communication in counseling.

What Is Counseling Interviewing?

Counseling interview refers to a technique that involves face-to-face or ear-to-ear (over the phone, the internet, or even radio sets) interaction between a counselor who serves as the interviewer and a client who serves as the respondent. 

The counselor asks personal questions and observes the verbal and nonverbal communication of the client.

Related: What Is Guidance and Counseling? (Overview, Scope, and Types)

2 Types of Counseling Interview

There are 2 types of counseling interviews. They are subjective or unstructured counseling interviews and objective or structured counseling interviews.

Unstructured or Subjective Counseling Interview

Counseling interviews can take a subjective form where the counselor asks questions as they come to mind and depending on the response of the client.

The counselor does not begin the relationship with a prescribed list of questions that will be asked. This form of counseling interview is used for general “check-ups” and it is especially helpful when counseling goals and objectives have not been set.

Feedback gotten from this interview can be used to establish the goals of the counseling relationship. Unstructured counseling interview useful technique in non-directive counseling.

For this type of counseling interview to be successful, the counselor must be an active listener and a good observer to pick nonverbal cues the client is sending to press further questions on them else he or she will run out of questions quickly while some important information from the client has not been elicited.

Structured or Objective Counseling Interview

The second type of counseling interview, structured interview, is one where the counselor begins the counseling encounter with specific questions in mind and sticks with them.

This type of counseling interview can be used to break down and understand complex circumstances around the case of the client which the counselor may miss if they aren’t pre-spelled out.

For example, a client suffering from post-traumatic stress because of a series of events that occurred within the space of 3 years (divorce, robbery, and loss of home due to natural disaster).

If the counselor does not come into the relationship with questions in mind, there are some important details that the client will not talk about if unstructured counseling interview is used.

But the counselor, being one who has had experiences with PTSD, will know the likely root causes and anxiety inducers around the issue and prepare questions beforehand to address those areas.

It can also be used to get background information about the client like demographics, family history, health records, and so on.

6 Qualities of an Effective Counseling Interview

For a counseling interview to be successful, the following must be in place

1. A professional interviewer

The interviewer in this place is the counselor. He or she must display the qualities of a professional counselor, especially congruence, unconditional positive regard, and empathy. He or she must also uphold all principles of guidance and counseling.

The counselor must also be versed in the issues the client wishes to address. 

Just like a doctor asks the right questions to identify symptoms and predict the likely ailment, a professional interviewer knows the right questions to ask to get to the root of issues.

For instance, there are slim chances there will be a need to ask someone seeking career guidance for their eating habits.

2. Quality relationship between the counselor and the client(s) 

People only open up to people they trust. At the beginning of the counseling interview, the counselor should be focused on building a good rapport with the client.

If the interviewee can see the counselor as a friend, there will be no need for twisting questions to get him to talk freely.

3. The presence of goals and objectives

While counselors should seek to become friends with clients, the goal of the relationship is not to just club together and get to know each other.

So the counselor must ask questions to drive at a point. It could be either to find the root causes of issues (which is very typical of counseling interviews) or identify options available for the clients or any other reasons.

4. Confidentiality and privacy

Confidentiality and privacy in this context are not as much where the client stays as much as it is how the client feels. A client can still lack confidence in the interview even if kept in a soundproof room alone with the counselor.

One way to build the client’s confidence in the process is to display professionalism and careful attention to detail. The counselor’s look, behavior & response, the office environment & arrangement, the documents used, and so on must be reassuring.

If you and your environment look collected, the client will feel safe.

Related: 5 Tips To Set Up A Minimalistic Therapist’s Office

5. Sufficient time for the interview 

Counseling interviews shouldn’t be rushed. There should be room for the client to take his time and think through questions before answering.

But it’s not only the client. The interviewer also shouldn’t rush questions. If either the interviewer or interviewee has a tight schedule, the interview should be rescheduled to a freer time.

6. A focus on the client’s needs, feelings, and values

The focus of the counseling interview is the client. The counselor should be open to leaning toward the client’s values while identifying their needs and paying attention to their feelings.

Related: Traditional Guidance and Counseling (Definition, Pros, and Con)

3 Stages of Counseling Interview 

There are 3 major stages of counseling interviews that occur in a typical counseling relationship, from when a client first enters the counselor’s office until the relationship is terminated either due to success or referral.

1. Initial Phase 

The initial phase of the counseling interview happens in the first meeting between the counselor and the client. Here, the counselor focuses on building rapport and trust with the client and encouraging open communication.

The counselor also gives a background to the client on what to expect in the counseling encounter.

There is first a structured interview (of client demographics) that takes place if the counselor has no previous knowledge of the client. Then there is another interview to ascertain the needs of the clients and set counseling goals.

2. Body Interviews

These are all other interviews that take place in the course of the counseling relationship. These interviews are mostly targeted toward understanding the client’s situation better. 

A kind of formative evaluation through interviews is also done to ascertain if progress is being made in the relationship.

3. Termination Phase

The third stage of the counseling interview is mainly focused on evaluation, but this time, summative evaluation.

The counselor asks the client questions about the sessions they have had so far and how satisfied they are concerning the issues they brought for counseling.

Related: 5 Steps and Stages of Group Counseling/Therapy 

10 Importance of Counseling Interview 

Counseling interview plays the following roles to the counselor and the client

  1. It can be used to find out the root causes of clients’ issues
  2. It can be used to get demographic data of clients
  3. It builds rapport between the counselor and the client thereby making the counseling relationship more effective
  4. It is necessary for effective goals setting in counseling
  5. It gives the client trust in the counseling process that it is aimed at meeting his needs
  6. It can serve as talk therapy where clients gain relief by talking to someone who cares and understand
  7. It can help clients gain insights and clarity about themselves and their thoughts
  8. Listening to the complexities of clients’ issues widens the experience scope of the counselor
  9. It can help the client develop communication skills that will be useful outside the counseling relationship
  10. It can be used for surveys e.g need assessment in school guidance programs

Related: 15 Importance of Guidance and Counseling in Education


Interviews are necessary for effective counseling. Every therapist and counselor must master the skill of asking the right questions and reassuring clients to answer freely.

Here are 52 other counseling skills and techniques every effective therapist must possess.

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