Summary - Focusing on the Main Points

Summary (link to Integrative counselling skills in action by Sue Culley, Tim Bondin counseling) is when you focus on the main points of a presentation or session in order to highlight them. At the same time you are giving the “gist”, you are checking to see if you are accurate.

Sum-ups happen at the beginning and at the end of a session.

In a beginning summary you are recalling what happened at the last meeting.

In an ending one, you are attempting to condense what has happened over 40 minutes into a few minutes worth of material.

In both cases your tone needs to imply that you are open to some changes in perspective. It’s important the both the client and you are “reading from the same page.”

So let’s say counselor Joan is seeing client Mary. Mary, has been speaking for 20 minutes – she is depressed, failing school, concerned about her boyfriends dedication to her, and overwhelmed by parents’ demands. Here is what a succinct, tentative summary would sound like.

1. You came in today because you are feeling depressed.

2. Your school work is not going well.

3. You worry your boyfriend doesn’t love you.

4. You are also unhappy with the amount of stress your parents are putting on you to get A’s.

Would you say this is accurate?

Note: I don’t use numbers in a session – I just put them here for clarification. And the client will likely be commenting along the way.

In Class Homework

Trying Out Summarizing: 10 minutes of listening and restating in a compact sympathetic way, and 5 minutes of feedback

Listener - Get ready to actively listen and get into your encouraging body language and tone.

Ask an Open-Ended question like, “What brings you here today?” You want them to go on at some length.

Speaker - Talk away!

A few minutes later...

Listener - Take what the speaker said and condense it – watching tone.

Speaker - Let the listener know if she/he is hearing you correctly.


1. Did you feel you were being sympathetically heard?

2. What percentage correct was the speaker? Ten percent? 90%? How come?


1. How was it to listen with the understanding you would be interpreting back to the speaker?

2. Did you feel you were “on the same page”? If not, why not?

I said this on the paraphrasing page and it bears repeating: Don’t worry if you are not completely accurate in your sum-up. That is why the listener “plays it back” to the speaker using a tentative tone – to make sure you “get it right.”

Out of Class Homework

Look for opportunities to practice summarizing.

Don't fear failure so much that you refuse to try new things. The saddest summary of a life contains three descriptions: could have, might have, and should have. - Louis E. Boone

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