Active listening is about “listening for meaning”. As a trainee therapist the first skill you must master is active listening. From my experience it is all about shutting out everything that is going on in my head and just concentrating on what my patient is telling me, it is about being in the “here and now”. Active listening can be very therapeutic because it gives the person who is being listened to the opportunity to be really heard. This happens rarely in our busy day to day life. How many times do we act like we are listening, but in fact we are thinking about something else completely?
Here are a few tips on how to actively listen:
Get rid of distractions – the radio, your phone, the TV or a laptop are all hugely distracting and the person you are listening to will be unlikely to open up if they think you are more interested in what is going on around you.
Eye contact is primordial, it is important to look at the person but not stare, learning all you can from their body language.
Posture, looking relaxed is essential making the other person feel comfortable. You can lean forward slightly.
Gesture, we say a lot through our body movements so try not to make big gestures which can be overwhelming for the other person. Try not to fidget.
Hold back from giving advice or solve problem, be curious about what the person is saying and use open ended questions.
Paraphrasing means to repeat the same information using different words. It shows your understanding it should be brief and tentative and you can say things such as “this sounds like…” or “I think I hear you saying…”
Try to ask open ended questions beginning with “how” or “what”, this can be a good tool to deepen a conversation and/or uncover hidden reasoning.
Avoid using “why” or leading questions, try to listen without a specific goal/outcome in mind.
Using nonverbal encouragers such as head nodding, brief verbal affirmations such as “I see”.
Ask feeling questions such as “How do you feel about that?”
Define and clarify feelings through paraphrasing “so you are feeling angry, is that right?”
Avoid distractions and focus on the speaker. Try to silence everything around you (no TV or music) and really concentrate on the here and now.
Follow the person’ lead, be interested in what the person is telling you but also listen out for the unspoken meaning of what is being said. Don’t interrupt, do not share your experiences.
Mirroring body language is an excellent way to build trust and understanding quickly.
Resist your urge to fill the silence. Silence is a form of communication and it can allow time to reflect and gather thoughts. If you find the silence hard to bear you could say something like “I wonder where your mind’s gone?”
If you can adopt just a few of the tips above it can really help enhance your relationships with others. Shut off any distractions and give some time to really try and understand the other person’s perspective. Active listening isn’t just for psychotherapists or counsellors, it’s for everyone.
If you are interested in how psychotherapy or psychology might be able to help you or a loved one please call 0203 326 9160 to talk to one of our triage team.
If you would like to book your first psychological therapy session, call our knowledgeable triage team on 02033269160.
Clinical Partners is the UK’s largest private mental health partnership, helping children, adults, families and organisations nationwide.
Marie Smith Business Development and Content Editor
Marie works as a valued member of the Business Development Team, with a BSc in Psychology and MSc in Neuropsychology. She previously worked in our Triage team and helped to develop the Clinical Partners CAMHS General Assessment and Adult ADHD assessment packages.