College 102 – Helping skills for faculty, staff, advisors, and licensed counselors

On Thursday evening, August 18, 2017 I attended a presentation by Katie Trulley, Cindy Kothbauer, and Drew Brabant entitled “Inside Track” at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College encouraging all faculty and staff to engage in helping students in their discernment processes of pursuing and completing their degrees along with experiencing personal fulfillment.

Historically and theoretically, I pursued my Masters degree in counseling and guidance at Loyola University from 1965-1968.  During that time, I was exposed to various theories of psychologists such as psychologist Elias H. Porter Jr., who in 1950, had formulated 3 basic helping skills.  I graduated with a solid theoretical foundation (only to realize how little I really knew) to begin my venture into the world of helping others for over the past 40 years.  Ten years later in 1969, I was exposed to and influenced by psychologists Carkhuff and Anthony, who developed 5 more basic helping skills. By combining these skills, I established an even more solid foundation for helping others.

As I was actively listening to the presentation Thursday evening, I wrote out the combined helping skills, and at the end of the presentation gave the list to Katie, one of the presenters,  as she was exiting.  Hopefully, all of you may find these helping skills relevant when you are in situations with students to be models, mentors, motivators, and messengers of hope, success, and personal fulfillment.

I formulated these 8 helping skills into a pneumonic device/acronym:  I USE PACE = Interpreting, Understanding, Supporting, Evaluating, Probing (for information and feelings); Advising, Clarifying, and Empowering.

Let us consider each of the 8 basic helping skills and responses – keeping in mind that fundamental to these helping skills is Active Listening.  Consciously or unconsciously we use these skills every day.  This is a clarion call to be more conscious of using these skills in our daily interactions.

Greater awareness of these helping skills will lead to greater efficacy and success on the part of the entire college community.

  1. Interpreting – the helper seeks to shed helpful light on the whys of a person’s feelings and behavior.
  2. Understanding – the helper seeks to communicate understanding and empathy while checking whether one understands accurately the feelings.
  3. Supporting – the helper seeks to reassure, reduce conflicting feelings or circumstances.
  4. Evaluating – the helper expresses one’s judgment concerning the relative constructiveness, validity, values, or effectiveness of the person’s feelings or behavior.
  5. Probing – the helper poses questions in order to seek further information or to encourage further discussion – one can probe for feelings and probe for factual information.
  6. Advising – the helper seeks to teach useful information and recommend that persons consider certain actions, beliefs, or attitudes.
  7. Clarifying – the helper seeks to enable persons to organize and find patterns and meaning in what they are expressing in confused or conflicting ways. This can be a form of secondary active listening.
  8. Empowering – the helper aims at enabling persons to gain a sense of their own inner strengths and worth, and when appropriate, to use this empowering in constructive action, including seeking greater justice for themselves and their communities.

Keep in mind that in the early or initial rapport-building phase of our helping, it is essential to use (understanding) responses primarily, with a few (probing) for feelings and information as appropriate or needed. In all these stages and types of helping relationships (understanding), (clarifying), and (empowering) responses are key. In crisis counseling, (supportive), (clarifying), and (empowering) responses are often essential as are (probing) strategies in situations like suicide assessments.  In sessions on value and meaning of life issues, (evaluative) and occasional (advising) by personalized teaching responses can be helpful if they are used in a caring, nonjudgmental way.

How ironic!  There really isn’t necessarily anything new under the sun as the book of Ecclesiates says.  Now, 60 years later, we seemed to be discovering anew or for the first time the basic helping skills necessary for interacting, advising, and counseling of our students lest they fall by the wayside.

Incorporating these 8 essential helping skills into your daily tool box will hopefully help you support, enhance, and promote successful student outcomes – giving our students meaning, direction, purpose, success, and fulfillment.


  1. Robert R. Carkhuff and William A. Anthony, The Skills of Helping (Amherst, Mass: Human Resource Development Press, 1979.
  2. Elias H. Porter Jr., An Introduction to Therapeutic Counseling, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1950), page 201.

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