One of the statements I hear from clients more frequently than I can count is “I feel like you really understand me.” Occasionally when a client says this to me I am left feeling relieved they feel this way even though I’ve just spent the whole session scratching my head about what’s going on with them. So why do they feel understood when I feel confused? Over time I have realized that the feeling of being “understood” is actually the feeling of being heard and seen in a way that acknowledges the validity of your experience. I may not understand every client in every session, but I always hear them and see them…especially in sessions when I am working hard to understand them. This leaves my clients with the knowledge that no matter what, I view their experience as valid and true for them. As a therapist it is practically an occupational hazard for me to spend excessive amounts of time reflecting on what makes some interactions feel good while others feel invalidating. I have often left work thinking how nice it would be if I could activate my “therapist” listening skills in my personal life so that my partner and kids can feel as understood as my clients do.
I’ve thought about it enough to have come up with a list of what I do as a therapist that makes clients feel so heard. Here it is, hopefully you can implement some super therapist listening skills in your personal relationships.
- Making eye contact: the first step in letting you know I’m present and interested
- Mirroring: I use your words to restate what I just heard. I mirror your expressions.
- Open posture: I sit in a relaxed, open posture letting you know I have absolutely nowhere else to be.
- Remembering what you’ve said in the past: I pay attention and work to remember names, dates, details and anecdotes.
- Noticing your body language: I name what I see in your body language and facial expression. I name the feeling and check to see if I’m reading you correctly.
- Checking in to make sure I’ve understood what you mean: I paraphrase, summarize and mirror back what you’ve said and make sure you feel I get it before offering my own responses.
- Not interrupting: I wait for you to finish. I am sensitive to times when you are silent because you just need more time to gather your thoughts and I don’t fill the silence.
- Taking my time in responding shows that I’m thinking about what you’ve said.
- I match your speed, tone, volume.
- Being interested: I cultivate a sincere curiosity about you, your world, and your experience and am sure to express it as such.