“I’m not a Therapist, I’m a ‘Listenist”.
This is my response to the question I am often asked: “Which type of therapy do you think works?” I haven’t actually trained in any specific type of therapy, but I have studied, some of the theories. I wouldn’t like to suggest any particular therapy works – in spite of what the research tells us. I would rather say that the therapy that works, is the therapy that you feel works for you…
I do think, however, that ‘talking therapies’, have what it takes to be helpful – engaging compassionately, employing a good interview technique, and above all else, being able to actively listen to the person. Listening is perhaps the single most powerful tool in a therapist’s box of skills. It is also a tool that we all have and can use, although we don’t always listen very effectively. It is perhaps why going to see a therapist to talk about your problems has become so popular!
We can all listen – you only need to think about watching your favourite TV show, or a film that you became totally engrossed in. You are engaging and concentrating on every aspect of the scene – not just on what the character is saying and how they are saying it, but also their appearance and body language.
So, what’s stopping us from doing the same with our friends, family and colleagues? What is stopping us from really concentrating on what is being said, and picking up on the non-verbal cues that can tell us if someone is feeling upset, or worse – distressed? I guess it’s not always easy to put another person’s need to be listened to above your own need. Most of us are dealing with our own “s**t” and find it difficult to think about another person.
“What is a Listenist?” I am asked
A Listenist is someone who – listens. It is someone who gives a little of his or her time to listen to a person talk about their problems and to express their feelings without judgement.
Now, I don’t profess to be perfect at listening. In fact, I am still learning after all these years. It takes practice to just ‘shut-up and listen’. I know I find it difficult, especially if I’m listening to my friends and family! I think it is more difficult the greater the emotional relationship. It is also harder not to give the benefit of your wisdom:
“If I were you, I’d…”
“Well, I wouldn’t do it that way…”
“When this happen to me…”
It’s hard not to give advice, but in truth, it is highly unlikely that your advice will be taken up. What has been your reaction to someone giving you advice?
I don’t know how long it will take me to be a good listener, if I ever will. I guess the key thing is to keep practicing and never stop trying to become a better listener.
Talking is good, and in some cases to talk, and talk, and talk, and talk! It gets “it off your chest” and out of your head. It is easier to deal with your problems and gives you clarity. It helps to express the emotional turmoil felt.
I remember a particularly bad time in my life – something bad happened. It was because I was listened to that helped me to process the events, to deal with my distress and to move on with my life. It took a long time, and I did a lot of talking! I didn’t need therapy, although it had been suggested. I just needed to talk and I didn’t really care who listened! I’m pretty sure that those who listened to me the most were fed up with listening to me. It must have got boring after a while. I have to thank them for their patience. They were instrumental in my recovery back from a dark place.
That experience taught me how valuable talking and being listened to is in the healing process. Words are not always needed – and sometimes you may not know what to say! A touch on the arm, or a hug is enough to show that you care. You may never understand the person’s situation, but you will no doubt understand and acknowledge that they are hurting. You almost certainly won’t have the answers, but giving time to listen will help the person to find the solutions for themselves.
A quick google search will reveal a truckload of advice on how to ‘actively listen’. There are some basic principles, which I think are helpful and don’t mind sharing with you in this blog: The 5-tips to listening© put together for the #HeyareyouOK? campaign workshop is a brief tool to remind us to listen with our heart and not our head.
1: Connect & engage
Show that you care enough to listen
2: Be attentive
It’s not all about you; it’s all about them!
3: Silence is golden
Don’t interrupt… let the silence do the talking
4: Validate the person’s emotional pain
How would I feel if I were in their shoes… Would I want someone to show that they care?
5: Help them to help themselves
Try not to give advice!
Do you have a story you would like to share? Please comment on my blog, or email me:
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“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”