Counselling in Oxfordshire

Bill Imlah :: Counselling in Oxfordshire

Blog » Why do I summarise and paraphrase in our sessions?

3 Jan 2017

I use summarising and paraphrasing to let you know that I have heard you, and as a way of checking whether I got it right


In our counselling sessions, summarising involves my taking what you've 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. I use it sparingly, but may do so if you've come with a lot of life issues, and I want to be sure I've taken them all in.

I tend to avoid summarising at the end of our sessions because it can feel like I'm putting everything back in the box, before you leave. Much of the work of therapy is the processing you do in the 6 days 23 hours between sessions, so I'll encourage you to leave the session still reflecting on what we've worked on, and still in touch with the feelings that we've been working with.



When I paraphrase, it involves repeating what you've said by putting it in my own words:

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

With paraphrasing, I'm not attempting to give an overview of what you just said, only finding different words to say it.

Paraphrasing and summarising can be useful:
  • For letting you know you've been heard and understood.
  • To give you an opportunity to clarify without my directing you
  • To help you clarify to yourself what’s going on for you, by hearing it back
  • To help you find the words where you might be struggling to articulate something:

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


Accuracy is important. If unsure, I'll usually be tentative.

Images used in this blog.