My Rules: Listening

“When a person realizes he has been deeply heard, his eyes moisten. I think in some real sense he is weeping for joy. It is as though he were saying: “Thank God, somebody heard me. Someone knows what it’s like to be me”

Carl R. Rogers

Edward Burne-Jones, The Hours, 1870-82

Edward Burne-Jones, The Hours, 1870-82

Being a good listener can help you to see the world through the eyes of others. It enriches your understanding and expands your capacity for empathy. It also increases your contact with the outside world by helping you improve your communication skills and awareness. Good listening skills can provide you with a deeper level of understanding about someone’s situation. As simple as listening (and acknowledging) may seem, doing it well, particularly when disagreements arise, takes sincere effort and lots of practice. Every case is different, but few simple rules are important to follow:

• Be the principle “here-and-now”! Mind and body should feel relaxed.
• Wait patiently for the person to open up.
• Listen objectively while the client is speaking.
• Your flexibility and intuition will find the balance between silence and verbal communication. Be attentive to every detail and non-verbal signs.
• Enter into the field of the problem, but don’t lose the position of the witness.
• Follow the right tempo.

Expect more than one answer!

Play freely with the problem statement, rewording it several times. ‘Increase awareness’? Try replacing ‘increase’ f.e. with ‘attract’, ‘develop’, ‘extend’, ‘deepen’ and see how your perception of the problem changes.

Songs, poems, legends, tales and short stories from all over the world are used in the healing process. The therapist and the patient reformulate constantly the personal perspective and the vision he/she need to follow.

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Use Effective Language Constructs

“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” George Orwell, 1984

Sandro Botticelli, Madonna with lillies and eight angels, Detail, c. 1478

Sandro Botticelli, Madonna with lillies and eight angels, Detail, c. 1478

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula for properly crafting the perfect problem statement, but there are some language constructs that always help making it more clear:

1. Assume a myriad of solutions. An excellent way to start a problem statement is: “In what ways might I…”. This expression is much superior to “How can I…” as it hints that there’s a multitude of solutions, and not just one — or maybe none. As simple as this sounds, the feeling of expectancy helps your brain find solutions.

2. Make it positive. Negative sentences require a lot more cognitive power to process and may slow you down — or even derail your train of thought. Positive statements also help you find the real goal behind the problem and, as such, are much more motivating.

3. For example: instead of finding ways to ‘quit smoking’, you may find that ‘increase your energy’, ‘live smarter’ and others are much more worthwhile goals.

4. Frame your problem in the form of a question. Our brain loves questions. If the question is powerful and engaging, our brains will do everything within their reach to answer it. We just can’t help it: Our brains will start working on the problem immediately and keep working in the background, even when we’re not aware of it.

5. If you’re still stuck, consider using the following formula for phrasing your problem statement:
“In what ways (action) (object) (qualifier) (end result)?”

The positive reframing always can help in digging into the roots of our feelings. Positive reframing does not change the situation, but it can certainly reduce damage and put things into a healthier perspective. Therapists use it frequently as a technique to restructure cognitions. When done skillfully with humor, it can be a wonderful tension de-fuser. Try it and see how a well-placed positive reframe can make a difference in a difficult situation.


My Rules in Counseling


One rule originated with Freud. In a 1912 paper, he advised doctors practicing psychoanalysis that the physician “should be opaque to his patients, and, like a mirror, show them nothing but what is shown to him.”

In psychoanalysis, there is a specific rationale for this rule. The theory holds that patients tend to re-enact with therapists the relationships they had with their parents. This is called transference. By paying careful attention to this unfolding drama — as it plays out, right there in the office — the therapist and patient can uncover and resolve childhood conflicts. If a therapist interjects information about herself, she clouds the mirror and compromises the process.

But I’m not a psychoanalyst. I agree there are good reasons for a therapist to adopt a posture of neutrality. For one thing, patients need to be free to take the discussion anywhere, including uncomfortable or taboo territories. If therapy were reciprocal, therapists might close off avenues of conversation that they themselves might want to avoid.

During the years of practice, I developed my own rules in therapy. Gradually, that helped me in attracting patients with the corresponding resonance. The personality of the therapist is, in many cases, much more important than the Paradigm.