Helping Characteristics

By Terence T. Gorski –

Effective helpers have integrated eight basic helping characteristics into their personalities.  The effectiveness of the therapists will improve as they consistently demonstrate a broader balance of these characteristics.

In the GORSKI-CENAPS® model, these helping characteristics are also applied in Group therapy.  Since an important role of group members is to help one another solve problems, it seems reasonable that the higher the level of helping characteristics demonstrated by group members during sessions, the more effective the groups will be.  This establishes a primary goal of the group leader to encourage the development of helping characteristics in all group members by role modeling them.

1.         Empathy:  Empathy is the ability to understand how another person perceives or experiences a situation or event.  It is the ability to enter the context, mind-set, or frame of reference of another person and to perceive the world from his or her point of view.  It is also the ability to communicate your perception of how the other person is perceiving the experience.

2.         Genuineness:  Genuineness is the ability to be fully yourself and to express your unique individual style and personality to another.  It is an absence of phoniness, role-playing, and defensiveness.  In a genuine person the outer behavior (the public self) matches the inner thoughts and feelings (the private self).

3.         Respect (Positive Regard):  Respect is the ability to communicate to another person, both verbally and non-verbally, the belief that he or she has the inner strength and capacity to make it in life, has the right to make his or her own decisions, and has the capacity to learn from the consequences of those decisions.

4.         Self-Disclosure:  Self-disclosure is the ability to communicate personal thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and beliefs to another person in a context appropriate manner when it is in the benefit of the other person for you to do so.

5.         Warmth:  Warmth is a non-verbal behavior that demonstrates positive regard and makes another person psychologically visible in a positive way.  Examples of behavior that communicate warmth would be touching, smiling, making eye contact, talking in a soft gentle tone of voice, etc..

6.         Immediacy:  Immediacy is the ability to focus upon the “here and now” interaction between yourself and other people.  The use of “I” statements followed by statements of personal reaction typically express immediacy.  Examples would be:  “Right now I am feeling ________.  When you said that, I began to think __________.  Right now I feel like _________.  As you were speaking, I began to sense that you were experiencing ___________.”

7.         Concreteness:  Concreteness is the ability to identify and clarify specific problems or issues.  It also includes the ability to design an action plan that describes the concrete steps that need to be solved in order to correct or resolve the problem.  Concreteness involves the ability to keep focused upon a specific problem and the action plan designed to resolve it.  It includes making clear and concrete expectations of others and inspecting the outcomes of those expectations.

8.         Confrontation:  Confrontation is the act of honestly communicating to another person your perception of reality which includes:  Your honest perception of the person’s strengths and weaknesses.  What you believe the person is thinking and feeling; How you observe the person to be acting; and What you believe are the logical consequences of those actions.  Effective confrontation communicates your view of reality to the other person in a way that supports the person while pointing out self-defeating thinking, emotional responses, behavior, and situational involvement.

Confrontation, Self-Exploration, and Helping Characteristics

Susan Anderson (Anderson, 1968) did a study that shows the relationship between the use of confrontation,  other helping characteristics (which she called facilitating conditions), and the movement of patients from confrontation to self-exploration. This article demonstrates the importance of having clear operation definitions of basic counseling procedures.

Anderson looked at the relationship between SUPPORTIVE/RATIONAL CONFRONTATION (which she simply called confrontation), the use of HELPING CHARACTERISTICS (which she called facilitating factors),  and the ability of the patient to move from Confrontation to SELF-EXPLORATION (Confrontation –> Self Exploration).

SUPPORTIVE-RATIONAL CONFRONTATION is defined as pointing out problems, self-defeating behaviors, or inconsistencies in a way that supports the person and points out the problem behavior. Anderson’s study did not allow therapists to use HARSH PSYCHO-NOXIOUS CONFRONTATION which involves angry/hostile attacks, arguing, fighting, or challenging a patient to look at problems from the therapist’s point-of-view with the intent to prove that the therapist is right or and the patient is wrong. From this point on, when I use the term confrontation, I use it to mean rational-supportive confrontation as defined above. When I use the term HELPING CHARACTERISTICS is will be used to mean the same as Anderson’s facilitating conditions.


METHOD: Tape recordings were made of 40 initial therapy interviews. A review panel of judges were trained to accurately identify the therapist’s use of CONFRONTATION and the Helping Characteristics (Five facilitating Conditions) and the patients movement from the confrontation to self exploration.

CONFRONTATION was operationally defined as “the therapist initiating interactions in which the therapist pointed out to the patient a discrepancy between his own and the client’s way of viewing a situation.” This is essentially the same as the definition of confrontation used in the first part of this article).

The HELPING CHARACTERISTICS, described as Five facilitating Conditions, were defined as: the therapist’s observable use by the judges of   the therapist’s use of: (1) Empathy,  (2) Genuineness, (3) Respect (Positive Regard), (4) Self-Disclosure, and (5) Concreteness. The characteristic warmth (part of the description of genuineness) and immediacy were not evaluated as separate categories).

SELF EXPLORATION was defined as the client’s ability to hear the therapists feedback (the content of the confrontation) accurately and discuss what aspects of the information presented in the confrontation fit or did not fit the situation being discussed.

Anderson’s study looked at the relationship between:

(1) Th number of times the therapists used CONFRONTATION

(2) The number of time the therapist used  HELPING CHARACTERISTICS, and

(3) And how frequently the use CONFRONTATION led into patient initiated SELF-EXPLORATION

HYPOTHESIS: The hypothesis was that:

(1) Confrontation would be positively related to high levels patient self-exploration, when accompanied by high levels of the helping characteristics, and

(2) Confrontation would be related to low levels of movement into self-exploration when accompanied by low levels of helping characteristics. these conditions, confrontation was never followed by increased self-exploration.


1. Patients had a high level of movement INTO self-exploration when the therapist used high levels of HELPING CHARACTERISTICS,
2. Patient’s NO NON-EXISTENT) movement from confrontation to self-exploration.  In other words, the patient NEVER moved from confrontation to self-exploration) when the therapist used low levels of HELPING CHARACTERISTICS.
3. As the use of HELPING CHARACTERISTICS increased there was an increase in the patient’s level of movement from confrontation to self-exploration.
4. There appears to be a minimal level at which the use of helping characteristics need to be used before any change in the movement from confrontation to self-exploration occurred.
5. This could be because a level of trust (defined as a consistent use helping characteristics used to support self-exploration ) requires at least a moderate use of the helping characteristics.

Anderson, Susan C., THE EFFECTS OF CONFRONTATION BY HIGH AND LOW-FUNCTIONING THERAPISTS., Journal of Counseling Psychology, Vol 15(5, Pt.1), Sep 1968, 411-416.

Carkhuff, Robert R. and Anthony, William A., The Skills of Helping, Human Resource Development Press, Amherst, Massachusetts, 1979.

Carkhuff, Robert R. and Berenson, Bernard G., Beyond Counseling and Therapy – Second Edition, Holt Rinehart, and Winston, Amherst, Massachusetts, 1977

Gorski, Terence T., The Gorski-CENAPS Model for Recovery and Relapse Prevention, Independence, Missouri: Herald House/Independence Press, 2007.

Rogers, Carl R. “The characteristics of a helping relationship.” The planning of change (1969): 153-166.

6 Responses to Helping Characteristics

    • Terry Gorski says:

      Thank you. Youth should be very loud.I am interested in the interests and causes of the young people today. It has been a very long time since I qualified as the youth of America, but I am still slugging away at trying to make the word a little bit better.

  1. Christina says:

    This is powerful and helpful. Thank you for posting it. I am going ro re-blog and link back to you! Love your work!

  2. Guy Lamunyon says:

    How about freedom from coercion? If clients do not want 12 Steps, find them an alternative (SMART, SOS, WFS, Celebrate Recovery, etc). Reference:TAP 21.

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