In training up and coming coming therapists, I’ve noticed quite a bit of cross over for the general public. In speaking to a group, recently, the subject matter really appeared to resonate with the attendees, confirming my interest in sharing this information.
I decided to pull back the curtain on what goes on in therapy school, to divulge tools of the trade or trade “secrets,” as they are absolutely learnable, definable, developable, and strengthenable. Part of this process involves aiding clients in meeting common core human needs, such as feeling heard, understood, seen, and known. Getting there, includes learning how to connect, listen, clarify, and query.
In social settings, I am often asked to discern what a person is thinking or informed I can “see right through” people. These aren’t magic skills indigenous to therapists. These skills are actually measurable, have an empirical basis, logical steps, and case studies to use as models, in what works with clients. The applicability of these skills is overarching and has the research backing to show it can strengthen, empower, and enliven relationships with clients, family, friends, coworkers, and significant others.
In the following list, I’ve included some of the highlights I revealed, in my most recent talk:
1. Active listening. This means active, not passive. It requires providing the rare and generous gift of presence. In a day and age where many are distracted by text messages and the internet, providing our presence to another human being breeds the sense of being attended to and focused on, which can lead to feeling heard, and understood, and cared about. As mentioned above, these are common core needs, we crave.
Active listening can be developed through meditative practice. It requires mental discipline, which is one benefit of regular meditation. An active meditative practice can require taking thoughts “back to center” when they drift or even “letting go” of the tethers of restrictive thought.
2. Clarification. Clarification is a key ingredient, when getting off track, losing site of the message, even glazing over or zoning out. Clarifying the message can convey genuine interest, vs. nodding in oblivious agreement. Ask about the intended meaning, reflect back what you are hearing, and ask if you are “on track” or “getting it.”
3. Boundary Setting. What about needing to end the interview, exit the conversation, or put a 15 minute monologue on pause? This can be a struggle for those who strain against the conventions of politeness, fear alienating themselves or their clients, and those who were not raised to talk to people in “that way.” Finding a way to re enter the conversation, use a polite “excuse me,” or hand gesture signaling you have more to say, or a direct statement indicating your intentions. Therapists regularly have to set time boundaries, for instance, “we have 1 hour … we have about 10 minutes left.”
Boundary setting sends profound messaging about the type of person you are, far beyond how you describe yourself. Will you make time exceptions, because someone is long winded, and upset your next client? What about your significant other, waiting, with dinner on the table?
4. Separate the behaviors from the person’s core value. This is an oft discussed concept when working with couples, in trouble. They frequently decide to come in for counseling, when they’ve entered into the profoundly distressing “negative attribution cycle” and have ceased giving one another the loving antidote of “the benefit of the doubt.” Shifting this paradigm can aid in eliciting and providing well rounded vs. critical feedback.
Take for instance, being late to dinner. Seeing this as an incident or a potentially uncontrollable situation for your partner, who just happens to be late, lends itself toward a compassionate response, but seeing it as typical of your inherently tardy and therefore, thoughtless partner, lends itself to frustration and anger.