Being a good listener is important, but especially for therapists. Active listening defines client-therapist relationships as it affects trust, transparency and ultimately, patient progress. It, therefore, determines the very basis of your work! It’s time to get back to basics with active listening for therapists.
WHAT IS ACTIVE LISTENING AND DOES IT REALLY MATTER?
Active listening has three parts: silence, non-verbal engagement, and thoughtful response. These are important for working with any client. In fact, a patient’s progress depends on active listening as much as it does on professional therapeutic techniques. Studies on psychotherapy further show that a stronger client-therapist relationship, which involves active listening, leads to quicker patient improvement. Of course, active listening for therapists is easier said than done! Here are a few tips to get you started.
#1 NON-VERBAL CUES
Remain silent and do not interrupt a client when he/she is talking. At the same time, consistently acknowledge that they’re being heard. Maintain strong eye contact when the client is talking, occasionally nodding to show that his/her opinion is valued. Body language is equally important here. Sit up straight and avoid defensive stances (e.g. crossed arms). When you can’t assure the client that you’re interested in the conversation with words, your body will do all the talking!
However, consistently engaging clients will be difficult while taking notes and keeping track of time. To solve this, mentally create a rotation system for note-taking and active listening. Time-keeping should never reduce with the quality of your session, so integrate some unobtrusive time-tracking tools into your consultation rooms. These small changes will go miles in improving your active listening skills!
Mirroring is not parroting! It is frustrating for clients if you constantly repeat what he/she has said. Instead, paraphrase their point and clarify if that’s what he/she meant. This not only demonstrates that you’re clearly listening, but it also presents an opportunity for clients to clarify any miscommunications. At the same time, you will keep up with the conversation easily as this serves as a mini summary for you!
#3 WELL-TIMED QUESTIONS
Nothing says active listening like questions! Ask clients questions to show that you’ve been listening. This makes them feel heard. At the same time, questioning helps clients see flaws in their decisions without you having to explicitly tell them so. Of course, you should only ask questions at a strategic time. Observe changes in tone and body language, then jump in when an opportunity presents itself!
#4 RESPOND THOUGHTFULLY
Your response to a client’s thoughts indicates how well you’ve been listening. If it is detailed, accurate and caring, clients will feel understood. On the other hand, if your response is simply irrelevant, clients will know that you haven’t been listening.
You should validate a client’s feelings, expressing care and empathy in your words. This is especially important in the realm of psychotherapy, where clients are vulnerable and confiding in you. As a result, take note of both verbal and non-verbal cues from clients, then craft your response based on any observations. For example, if you observe that a particular topic is more emotional, approach the issue with more care than you normally would. It’s all about reacting and responding to your client’s emotions. A thoughtful response will undoubtedly strengthen your client-therapist relationship.
Ultimately, active listening is essential for establishing a genuine bond with your clients. It involves detail, care and a little more thought, but its benefits are endless!