How hard can listening be? How do we listen? What are we listening for? Are we aware when we stop listening? How do we know we are being listened to? Why do we listen differently from one person to another? For the therapist listening is the most important part of the work.
The philosopher and psychologist, Peter Wilberg writes about therapeutic listening as “an active form of silent inner communication with others”. This type of listening is different from ordinary listening where, for example, the listener is trying to relate the other person’s experience to their own, or thinking of responses to carry on a conversation. Therapeutic listening goes beyond verbal and nonverbal listening skills. It engages all of the therapist’s senses and perceptions to fully experience the emotional essence that the client is expressing between sentences and words. The anagram for listen is silent.
As therapists, we listen for meanings. Therapeutic listening has the potential to capture a word that pinpoints the client’s feeling or thought, while also resonating with the therapist’s own intuitive felt sense. Therapists’ intuitive strength rests with their ability to sense connections between the client’s past and presenting issues. The silence of listening is at the very heart of therapeutic presence.