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Dr. Allen Ivey


Microcounseling, also called microteaching or microtraining, is a training technique first developed and popularized by Allen Ivey in 1967. Ivey, a professor at the University of Massachusetts—Amherst, has been a long-time scholar whose work has focused on teaching the microcounseling method to groups across the globe. Studies have identified quantitative and qualitative improvements in interviewers who have been trained in the use of the technique (Baker and Daniels, 1989).


Microcounseling was originally intended to be used as a way to help counselors and psychologists become more effective interviewers. It facilitates open communication and a positive rapport between the two parties. Trainees have found the technique to be helpful and effective (Digiulio and Eshleman, 1972). The technique caught on quickly and is now commonly used to train people in almost any profession requiring effective communication (Weinrach, 1987).


Microcounseling, in its most basic form, is a way to deconstruct an interviewer’s technique and improve each facet—or micro skill or attribute—of the interview, one at a time. It prescribes a method for diagnosis, learning, and application. Prior to the use of microcounseling, interviewers were often confused as to why their technique was ineffective and did not have the ability to distinguish which aspect of their technique needed improvement.


Before an interview, a trainee is given a specific skill on which to focus during a subsequent interview. Then the trainee observes someone model the skill. The trainee conducts an interview and tries to replicate the model’s technique. To help the trainee identify his or her strengths and weaknesses with regard to the skill in question, video recording equipment is often used for the benefit of the trainee. To supplement or replace video equipment, peers and/or a microcounseling professional may evaluate the trainee’s technique. Feedback and repetition are also important components of microcounseling.


Ivey has identified “attending behavior” as the most important skill. “Attending behavior” is the way a counselor listens to a client. Many interviewers are distracted, nervous, or unfocused, and thus are unable to extract from the client that which he or she needs to accurately address the client’s need. Attending behavior not only helps the interviewer understand what the interviewee is saying; it also helps calm and focus the interviewee. Eye contact, body language, and verbal behavior are all part of “attending behavior” (Ivey and Authier, 1978). Various microskills are identified depending on the context in which the interview is taking place.

Microcounseling as it specifically relates to reference librarianship


Elaine and Edward Jennerich found that there are twelve microskills used during a reference interview: eye contact, gestures, relaxed posture, facial expression and verbal behavior, remembering, premature diagnosis, reflect feelings verbally, restate or paraphrase comments, use open questions, encouragers, closure, opinions/suggestions. Their research also led them to identify the eleven attributes of ideal reference librarians: sense of humor, dedication or commitment, genuine liking for people, good memory, imagination, creativity, patience, persistence, energy, stamina, ability to jump from subject to subject (Richardson, 199).


The microcounseling technique has proven to be especially helpful to reference librarians, as a quality exchange of information between librarian and user is essential to providing the user with the information he or she needs. Elaine Jennerich evaluated the use of microcounseling in the training of librarians and found that it is helpful but is not a panacea for correcting flawed interviews, nor does it address every situation which may arise during a reference transaction. Nevertheless, several library science professionals have testified to its effectiveness (Jennerich, 1974; Ross et al, 2002).




Works cited and related publications:


Allen, Dwight. (Ed.). ( 1967). Microteaching: A description. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford Teacher Education Program.


Baker, Stanley B. and Thomas G. Daniels. (1989). Integrating Research on the Microcounseling Program: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 36, 213-222.


Crabbs, Michael A. and Carl Jarmin. (1976). Microcounseling: Making it Work for You. The Personnel and Guidance Journal, 54, 329-331.


Digiulio, Robert A. and Winston Eshleman. (1972) Graduate Students Respond to Televised Microcounseling Experiences. Audiovisual Instruction, 17, 39-40.


Ivey, Allen E. and Jerry Authier. (1978). Microcounseling: Innovations in Interviewing, Counseling, Psychotherapy, and Psychoeducation. 2nd Ed. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.


Ivey, Allen E. and Mary Bradford Ivey. (1999). Intentional Interviewing and Counseling: Facilitating Client Development in a Multicultural Society. 4th ed. Pacific Grove, CA.: Brooks/Cole.


Jennerich, Elaine Z. (1974). Microcounseling in Library Education. Ph.D. diss. University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Library and Information Sciences.


Richardson, J. (2002). The Current State of Research on Reference Transactions. In F.C. Lynded (Ed.), Advances in Librarianship. San Diego: Academic Press.


Ross, Catherine Sheldrick, Kirsti Nilsen, and Patricia Dewdney. (2002). Conduction the Reference Interview: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.


Weinrach, Stephen G. (1987) Microcounseling and Beyond: A Dialogue with Allen Ivey. Journal of Counseling and Development, 65, 532-537

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