It’s funny how counselling works. I see clients change in front of my eyes, they see it in themselves, but when they try to explain how it happened, or identify the exact moment of change, words fail them.
Change occurs in different ways; changes in thoughts, behaviours and feelings, changes in the relationship with ourself and others. Of course, there are various theories for how this works (my practice is based on the work of Carl Rogers), but to explain it in everyday terms is more difficult.
Have you ever been talking to someone about a problem, and on speaking it out loud thought, “Now it makes sense!”. I do something similar with my academic students all the time; I encourage them to teach me about a tricky math problem or a complicated theory, and during that act of teaching me they also teach themselves. I see parallels between this and my counselling practice. It starts with a client sharing their experience out loud. I listen carefully and reflect back what I’ve heard. The client then refines it and gradually makes sense of it, until one day something clicks, and from that moment of understanding, change can take place because when they see something clearly they can choose what to do about it. I like to think I offer a few clever observations and challenges along the way, but it’s really my clients who do all the hard work. You see, the way I see it (as Carl Rogers saw it), is that my clients are the experts and know themselves best. I don’t try to tell them what to do or explain why they feel the way they do, because that’s different for everyone. My role is to enable them to find the answers within themselves, which I do as best I can by creating a safe and trusting relationship, and through the power of listening.
When was the last time you were listened to? I mean, really listened to?
So often we go through our day, people saying, “Hi, how are you?”. They mean well of course, but it’s said more of a greeting nowadays. Does that person have time to hear how you really are? Do they want to hear it? Do you feel able to tell them? How many times have you just said, “Fine thanks!”?
I’ll never forget the first time I sat with my peers for ‘check-in’ during my counselling training. ‘Check-in’ was a simple activity where we shared how our week had been and how we were in that moment. I didn’t know what to say, and I didn’t know how I felt. Suddenly 8 pairs of eyes were staring at me, ready to listen to my every word. What was this? I broke out in a cold sweat. I wasn’t used to being heard so intently. Although I distinctly remember the discomfort of sharing personal things week on week for 2 years, I also remember, and will forever remember, the love, patience and kindness of my peers. Before this time they were complete strangers, and yet during those moments they knew me better than my family and my friends, and they helped me through some of my bleakest times. The power of their listening and the change it enabled will always be with me.
When did you last feel heard? Who was it that listened, and what impact did it have on you? Next time you ask someone how they are, I wonder if you could take the time to really listen to their answer.