Sunday, 10 March 2013

Ssshhh...... Listen

Do you sometimes feel you are the type of person others seem to want to tell their problems to? I was talking to a friend the other day who was telling me how exhausted she was feeling when put in that position.

Out of a sense of friendship it's so tempting to offer what you think are solutions or a course of action to help when a friend asks "What am I going to do?" But I've realised a couple of things happen when you do that......
Firstly, they who ask may feel obligated or even pressured to take your advice; and secondly you can end up feeling the need to "check up" on them,  because you've positioned yourself to become responsible for their happiness. It really changes the nature of any friendship you have with them. It can almost feel awkward in any future meetings you have with each other. And that's certainly what she had noticed.
And I personally believe it's not really possible to know another person well enough to assume what would be "best" for them. Just one small, seemingly insignificant aspect of their personality or lifestyle can make what may be "perfect" advice for yourself, quite useless or damaging for another person.

But in my profession as a Remedial Therapist, clients sometimes talk about their worries or concerns within their lives. As muscles relax, and the nervous system corrects within their bodies this can happen. The confidentiality of the client-therapist relationship often allows people to feel comfortable to voice feelings they may have "bottled up."  But it would be completely inappropriate and unprofessional for me to give them any direction or advice at all, other than that which would support the bodywork treatment they are paying me for. I am not trained to support their emotional health.  I've certainly referred people to Counsellors at times. But yet, in the midst of their treatment, I think I would seem (and feel) harsh to just ignore people at these times, "cut them off," or change the subject.

So I've learnt to just listen while continuing with the treatment, without giving any direction whatsoever. There are loads of books written about how to listen "actively." Active listening is a very simple concept really. But it's not always easy to achieve. It involves listening while another talks, waiting for them to finish speaking, and then reflecting back to them the "feelings" you observe they seem to have, about the matter they are feeling emotional about. It really is just acting like a mirror for them.

An example might be when someone is talking negatively about how they are feeling within a relationship they are in. "You sound really upset about that," or " I'm so sorry to hear about that" allow me to convey that I am listening, that they can talk, and that I validate their right to those feelings. We all appreciate validation. And I don't think that's the same as saying how they feel is right (or wrong), but just that it's valid for them to be feeling whatever they feel.

I've noticed it is often more useful to just listen as a friend or client "vents" without offering advice or direction. But using reflection by saying " You sound....", "Am I right in noticing you're feeling......?", "So what you're saying is...."
Because no one becomes responsible to another for giving or taking advice.
And, in this way, I've "listened" to people come to their own useful solutions that very specifically suit their life and their needs, without my "interference."

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