Summarising and Paraphrasing

3 Jan 2013 |  for trainees | by Bill, writer at UK & Ireland Counsellor Directory

These two skills let your client know that you have listened and heard them.


Summarising involves taking what someone has said over a prolonged period and putting it in a nutshell – a sentence or a few sentences that condense what might have taken a few minutes or longer to say.


“So if I can summarise what you’ve been telling me, you’d like to have your mum for Christmas, and would feel guilty if you don’t ask her. On the other hand your partner doesn’t get on with her and you feel it’s unfair on him to ask her to stay. You also realise that your brother never invites your mum to stay with him and his family and you resent that you’re usually the one who does it.”

Some therapists are fonder of summarising than others. A good time to use it if the client has come with a lot of issues, and you want to be sure you've taken them all in.

Summarising at the end of a session carries the danger that it feels like you're putting everything back in the box, before the client leaves. Much of the work of therapy is the processing done in the 6 days 23 hours between sessions, so to encourage the client to shut down, rather than leave still in touch with the feelings that he or she needs to work-through can be unhelpful.


Paraphrasing involves repeating what’s said by putting it in your own words:

  • Client: I’m having a tough time in my job
  • You: Things feel really difficult for you at work

With paraphrasing, you're not attempting to give an overview of what the client said, just finding different words to say it.

Paraphrasing and summarising can be useful:
  • For letting the client know they’ve been heard and understood.
  • To let the other person clarify without you directing them
  • For helping the client clarify to themselves what’s going on
  • For helping the client find the words they’re looking for:

    Client: "I felt a bit cross”.
    You: "You were angry”.
    Client: "Yes, actually, I was angry”.

Summarising can be used to review towards the end of sessions.

Accuracy is important. If unsure, be tentative.

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