Saturday, November 29, 2008

Are ya listening??

David Martin, in his book, Counselling and Therapy Skills, says that evocative empathy is the, "communicated understanding of the other person's intended message, especially the experiential part". That is such a loaded definition...

Empathy that evokes a response in the other needs to not only be felt by the listener, but then communicated to the other person...this makes "listening" not only hearing it, but actively expressing what you think you heard back to the person you are listening to.

This involves listening to what is said, but what a person intends to say. When a wife says, "Work was exhausting today," as she looks at the whirlwind in the kitchen after supper, she is quite possibly not only commenting on her fatigue, but on her sense of being overwhelmed at the additional tasks yet ahead.

Then it is looking at not only the words a person says, but the total experience of how it is being said. When an adolescent son says, "Whatever", is it said with a sparkle in his eye, disdain as he turns away, or balled fists and furrowed brow? It is looking at the the package that the words come in.

Fundamentally, it is putting yourself and your reaction aside to hear what the person is saying. It's continuing the conversation without adding your own thoughts or opinions. It's ensuring that you are not providing advice, being defensive, defending yourself, or trying to "up" their story with one of your own.

I teach at the university, and am having conversations with students. We've spent the semester learning this stuff...primarily in a therapeutic context. But, over and over, they tell me that they are realizing how often they haven't really stopped to listen to a spouse or friend's full experience as they "experiment" using this approach in their personal relationship. They tell stories about listening more intently, focusing on the other person's message and feelings rather than their own...and realizing that both the listener and the "listened-to" are richer for it.

Couples in therapy often have a "turn around moment" as one suddenly feels listened to in a new way. Listening conveys caring. Listening says, "I'm approachable. I'm safe". Listening says, "You matter to me".

Sounds easy, right? Skeptical? Think it won't work? Try it. Today. With someone you love. See their reaction--and tell us about it in a comment.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Butter Has Moved

I remember CBC inviting listeners to call in suggesting what they noticed at a significant sign that spring had come. Now, I'm not a "caller-in-er" to radio programs, so I didn't call, but I knew immediately what I would have said if I had called in. In our office, we have a small kitchenette with meager supplies to cobble up a simple lunch. In winter, when the cold comes through the window the window sill is a perfect place to store our butter--it's not quite as cold as the fridge, so it makes spreading it on toast easier. In spring, the window sill warms up, and then someone decides that it is time to move the butter back into the fridge. When the butter moves, then I know winter is over.

Well...the butter moved back to the window sill a few weeks ago...and then one day, someone opened the container and the butter was bad. The decision was made that the butter would be permanently in the fridge, year round.

I can handle this. I can. But I don't want to have to. It's part of the rhythm of the seasons that the butter moves from window sill to fridge and back again, following the seasons. And now that is missing.

I thought of this as I was reading some vignettes around the Christmas theme. Most of the writers referred back to Christmas memories...some of which were reliable "we do this every year"--even if they didn't even like the content of the tradition (who likes pizza buns made with Spam anyway?), it meant something. It was reliable, comfortable, consistent, and reminds all that we are connected with our past. Now...people continue those patterns and traditions as adults. We like to come around to the same feelings, and these external traditions are cues to internal feelings that connect us with being loved and with people we love.

Pizza buns, anyone??

Monday, November 24, 2008

A new era for me

This is a week of new beginnings. This is my first blog entry as I want to venture out into new ways of connecting with people who are asking good questions, and like me, searching for strategies that will make this world a better place.

Bergen and Associates Counselling, the organization of which I am a director, is also beginning a new venture--into the world of video counselling. Over the years, the therapists where I work have seen clients who drive hours to see us. Generally, they live in remote areas where there are either no counselling resources, or the resources are so limited that it would take months to be seen. When a person is in crisis, waiting months can seem like it is just not an option! A situation that is stressful can become intolerable, or in the worst case scenario, fall apart because the situation deteriorates. I still believe face to face "in-person" counselling is best, and would want people to get local resources when possible. However, in many cases, it may feel like there are no options for getting help. I like to think that we fit in that gap--that where there is no one to talk to, we can be there, via videoconferencing over the internet.

It has been a challenge to get there...I have become a student of technology this last week as I have been taught how to use the videoconferencing system (Thanks Terie--who taught us over the new system he was teaching us to use!), had to figure out how to program my website to do new tricks, and am enhancing my abilities to use Google. It has reminded me of how much being on a "learning curve" can take out of a person...probably a good thing for a therapist to experience!