Happy New Ear: Ways to improve your listening skills
You might be asking, "What's with the unusual title?"As counsellors, most of us have the privilege to provide a listening service for our clients. This is about keeping up the valuable work that you do as counsellors/psychotherapists, as you provide your clients the tools to take ownership of their therapy.
It always starts with two unacquainted people; someone brave enough to acknowledge that they need help with their issues, and an attentive ear to hear what that brave person will bring. The first point of contact is so important for the individual in need.
Making sure that we, as therapists, have heard and understood what is being shared is vitally important; not just for the client, but for the therapist too, as they both engage in building that working relationship. Remember that the client in this scenario could be vulnerable.
The beauty of being a counsellor is that when someone feels heard, the battles they face become easier to fight.
Having someone who has an empathic approach, who listens without making any personal judgements, and who shows a genuine interest in your situation is the beginning of the journey to healing and overcoming.
Have a heart!
Listening doesn't just happen with our ears (OK it does, but you'll get my gist). Although, obviously, we hear comments and expressions made by our clients, we can also listen with our hearts. When an individual expresses deep emotion due to a bereavement or brings good news to the point that they are bursting with joy, it allows us to enter into those expressions and walk through a valley or soar on the thermals of that joy.
Our responses to others' news (whether good or bad) takes precedence in our times together. It works wonders for the working relationship. Clients will be more likely to open themselves if they feel heard.
Have a good read!
But there's more (where have I heard that before?). And again, this is so important for counsellors as well as clients! We can listen by using our eyes. Reading our client's body language is just another way of communicating how one is feeling. Likewise, when our clients view our body language, what are we communicating?
I know full well that if someone is sitting before me with their arms folded tightly and their head facing towards their chest, they probably aren't wanting to engage with me. Whereas, Mr Jolly walking towards me with arms by his side, in a non-threatening manner, with a smile on his face is more likely to talk to me.
Our body language as therapists will soon relay to our clients whether we are truly engaging or just going through the motions. It is good practice to have that awareness.
Well, we've discovered that communication can be heard as one talks to another through the senses of hearing, through a true connection at the heart (empathy) and by observing the visual interactions of our clients (body language).
Setting the tone!
This two-way street applies to therapist and client alike. The tone of our voice when communicating can make a difference to the responses we give/get.
Raising of voice or shouting can be scary for some, or it can initiate a response of hostility towards the initiator. Alternatively, if you have a client who may have been triggered by something you've said, there may be a possibility that they may raise their voice or become agitated. As working professionals, we may need to be aware and conscious of how we respond to potential outbursts.
A quiet and calm response can diffuse any escalation of agitation. Slowing our speech allows time for the client to ingest and reflect on what has just been discussed. Offering a space for silence is important too, as you give your client the quiet setting to process vital information from the session.
I hope this is a helpful way to look at how we listen to our clients. As mentioned, it is so important that individuals are listened to, and if we miss the signals through an inability to actively listen, read body language and discern the tone of voices, then we are likely to enter situations which can cause a strain to the therapeutic relationship.
Make sure that as a therapist you check yourself and your responses, think before you respond, allow time for reflection and be a good listening ear.
Thanks for reading and Happy New Ear.