Preparation for one of the helping professions--counseling, health care, rehabilitation, education, social work, ministry, others--requires studying the curriculum of accumulated scientific knowledge and developing the skills to be an effective helper in the tradition of that professional discipline (i.e. field of study).   Four common skills across disciplines are skills for communicating, motivating, problem solving and resolving conflicts.    

Conflict resolution skills involve learning about styles of conflict resolution (such as Thomas and Kilmann's: Competitive, Collaborative, Compromising, Accommodating, and Avoiding).  It also includes learning the rules of Interest-Based Rational Approach (IRB) as well as the process of conflict resolution.  Helping professionals may be called on to facilitate communication and problem solving between parties that are having a conflict as well as to help them focus on facts rather than personalities or blaming one another.  Skill building in this area is important.  Read more online at .

Communication skills include the ability to actively listen, demonstrate understanding, ask appropriate questions, and provide information as needed.  Active listening involves listening to the words, the gestures, and other body language.  It involves listening for what is said and what isn't said.  It requires listening to content, its meaning, and the emotions behind the content.  Demonstrating understanding includes responding to what is said by repeating the same words or using other words, stating the meaning of the words, and describing the feelings that accompany the words.  

Information giving may be based on procedural, referral, educational, occupational, testing, or other forms of information.  Careful observations and accurate interpretation of verbal and non-verbal forms of communication are essential.  Questioning is the part of communication that clarifies, challenges, and creates opportunities to share additional facts and details as well as to check understanding.

Understanding the communication cycle (sender>message>channel>receiver>feedback) and the barriers (noise, interruptions, uncomfortable surroundings, stereotyping, message complexity, misstatements) that can get in the way of effective communication are included in coursework for developing this skill area. For an online resource on communication skills go to

Motivational skills are ones that influence a client to take action after the helping session.  As the old saying goes: "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink."  There are varied theories related to this skill area.  Needs, desires, incentives, drive, cognitive dissonance, and other factors have been purported to motivate behaviors. Identifying the area of self-interest of a client and linking the desired action to it has been deemed very important.  Also recognizing the client's readiness for action must be considered.  Does the client have the necessary knowledge, skills, or ability to perform the necessary task to correct the problem area? Are their fears interfering with taking action?  Read about this area online at


Helping Skills

Problem solving skills include differentiating between symptoms and the problem, pinpointing probable causes and triggers for the problem, and then generating a range of possible solutions to the actual problem.  Problem prevention strategies are also included in coursework that helps potential professionals develop this area of skill.  Although the following online resource highlights the business perspective, useful tips for any professional are found at