Empathy and sympathy are often used interchangeably without consequence, but the difference between them is significant when they describe the traits of an effective counselor.
An abstract of a study of professional counselors shows empathy as one of the most important traits and sympathy as one of the least.
No matter what type of counseling is practiced, professional counselors who took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) provided responses that identify a certain personality type as one that is usually successful in the counseling field.
Identifying the Counselor Personality
The MBTI elicits answers to questions in areas that reveal preferred sources of energy, how respondents like to receive information, how they make decisions and how they conduct their personal life. The composite picture for counselors is a complex one that applies to less than 2 percent of the population. Effective counselors fit the INFJ (Introvertive, iNtuitive, Feeling, Judging) personality type that includes a combination of rare qualities.
Understanding Energy Sources
Most people have a general understanding of an extrovert or an introvert personality without realizing that the source of energy is a determining factor. While counselors spend most of their time interacting with other people, the preference of extroverts, they are actually introverts. As such, they enjoy learning through observation, and they are usually quiet and reserved.
Receiving and Processing Information
Counselors are able to delve into areas that are unknown instead of relying on clear facts. Generating ideas for new possibilities helps them assist clients in discovering something that is not obvious. Relying on intuition, the "N" in the personality type indicator, counselors are sensitive to the needs of clients, and they are highly creative. They have an idealistic approach that focuses on the future and the possibilities that reside there. Reserved and private by nature, they value close relationships.
Using objective logic is not as valuable to counselors as an approach that relies on feelings. The "F" indicator represents a preference for using values and beliefs to arrive at conclusions instead of relying on an analytic approach. Counselors have compassion for others, and they are tolerant of traits that are often considered failings. The ability to make decisions that are based on observed behavioral patterns helps counselors reach out to clients with tolerance and understanding. An attitude of acceptance creates a harmonious climate in which clients can feel comfortable and at ease with their.
Approaching Life in Different Ways
Successful counselors tend to prefer a lifestyle that is stable, planned and well organized. The "J" in the Myers-Briggs test represents the ability to make clear decisions and evaluations. Exuding an aura of confidence that may result from having things under control is often typical of a successful counselor. People who are effective counselors like making decisions, and they are usually more comfortable when they can find a resolution to an issue than when it remains unresolved.
Sometimes appearing shy and timid, counselors who fit the INFJ profile quietly make observations and use quiet time to evaluate them. A calm exterior may conceal what is going on internally, including a sincere desire for knowledge. Traits of an effective counselor that predict success in the field include a commitment to excellence in the finest traditions of a rewarding career.
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