Psychotherapists, how do you train to listen so intently? What do you do if you feel particularly distracted for some reason? I find it fascinating how absolutely present you can be and hope to improve my listening skills too.
A great question that has given me the opportunity to really examine this.
For some reason I have been able to do some of this since childhood. I didn’t really understand the process intellectually until I was studying psychology in university. At that time it was called ‘active listening’. It involves truly focused listening and discernment at the same time. It’s like listening and processing on multiple levels simultaneously.
My process goes something like this….
On one level I am absolutely and completely focused on and listening to my client; how they are acting, what they say they are feeling and the narratives they are telling me. On another level I am using deep empathy and paying minute attention to what they are really feeling as they speak. I am also discerning if they are aware of what they are feeling and if the words they are saying correlate with what they are actually feeling. I am also doing all of this with no value judgements. Objective, mindful observing is an essential element of the listening process.
There is also a constant, subtle, intellectual, objective discernment process occurring that includes an evaluation of everything being said, felt and expressed as well as the best and most therapeutic response, reactions, non-reactions, mirroring, guidance, etc. to what the client is saying and feeling to lead to them to self-awareness, clarity, inner strength and the long term goals of therapy. It is essential to remember that every one of my words or reactions can have an effect on my client and the entire therapeutic process.
Some of this comes as a natural ability but most of this comes from many years of experience.
When I am with a client/patient I am absolutely and totally focused on them. Everything else is set aside and can wait. The only distraction is a small clock in the corner of my screen to keep track of the time.
If you would like to improve your listening skills practice mindfulness and combine it with listening to someone. It is a very powerful experience.
I have posted quite a few mindfulness exercises here. You are welcome to use as many as you like to practice this skill. If you practice enough it will become automatic and will be of great benefit to you and all those you listen to.