Paraphrasing is a skill of rephrasing what is understood to be the key message of the client’s communication. It lets clients know that you understand their concerns from their perspective. The frame of reference for paraphrasing is the client’s.

Paraphrasing can be used to:

  • Communicate acceptance and empathy. Paraphrasing is an excellent way of letting clients know that you are ‘present’ and concerned to see things from their perspective
  • Check your perception of what they have said. Paraphrasing allows both you and the client to know whether or not you are both sharing a common understanding of the issues
  • Build a trusting relationship. Clients come to you with varying emotions and may often feel vulnerable. They may wonder if they can trust you in the instructing relationship. Paraphrasing helps you to react to what they say in a non-­judgemental way
  • Gain information about how clients see themselves and their concerns. Paraphrasing is an excellent way of gathering information because it enables you to follow clients without forcing the direction in which the conversation goes. It allows the client freedom to say what they want to.

For paraphrasing to be effective, it needs to be accurate. It is necessary to attend well and actively listen to the client, as well as being open and receptive to the client and their experiences.

Paraphrasing also allows clients to ‘hear again’ what they have said, giving them the opportunity to reflect and if necessary, modify their message. For example:

Client: I don’t think I’ll be able to stop eating the junk food I don’t go out much at all, I just sit at home in front of the TV and eat I don’t know what I’d do in its place take up smoking instead!!!!!!!!!!!
Instructor: You comfort eat in front of the TV every evening
Client: Yes. But it’s not just in front of the TV When I’m waiting for the train and tube; I end up buying loads of snacks and stuffing my face. During my lunch breaks, I go to the fast food place next to the office and buy burgers and fries. I know I should eat better, but the temptation is too much …I can’t help myself… Half the time I’m not even hungry
Instructor: You feel guilty because you can’t resist eating the junk food when you’re out
Client: Yes I’m getting fatter and fatter, and my blood pressure is high as a result. My doctor sent me to you because she said you could help

Paraphrasing can be very useful for receiving strong feelings or attacks from clients without becoming defensive. For example:

Client: It’s alright for you you never smoked. What do you know about giving it up? You sit there and listen, but I’m the one putting in all the hard work All I want is a @&*$?#% cigarette
Instructor: You’re angry that I’m not able to share what you are going through
Client: Yeah, that’s right It’s not just you – I’m sick of my husband preaching at me the whole time about the virtues of giving up smoking and how bad I must be feeling how does he know, he’s never smoked either
Instructor: You feel furious because it seems that everyone is pressurising you to give up
Client: Yes, I’m sick of it I’m trying my best

 Paraphrasing can also help clients clarify for themselves what they actually mean.

Client: I’ve been dithering all week. I can’t make up my mind about going to see the specialist. Sometimes I think I’d be mad not to go and find out what’s wrong Other times, I can’t be bothered…
Instructor: You’re undecided Now you’ve finally got the appointment, you’re not sure you want it
Client: Well, yes I suppose I do want to go, I’m just scared of what they might say

Below are listed some guidelines to help with paraphrasing:

  • Be cautious and offer what you perceive the client has said
  • Try to avoid telling or defining for the client
  • Do not judge, dismiss or use sarcasm
  • Use your own words
  • Listen to the depth of feeling and match it in the paraphrasing
  • Do not add anything to what the client has said, evaluate it or offer interpretations
  • Be congruent and do not pretend to understand
  • Be brief and direct
  • Do not sound shocked, surprised or disbelieving
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