Learning To Be A Good Listener

I recently started a counselling awareness course at Sheffield City College (Castle College for all you local old-schoolers) after having an interest in counselling and psychology for quite some time but having never actually studied the subjects.

For the first few weeks of the course, we began learning the theory behind counselling and focused on Carl Rogers’ person-centred approach to counselling. This week, however, we were asked to group up and assume the role of counsellor, spending ten minutes listening to another person as they told us about something that was bothering them and trying to point them in the direction of a solution without offering direct advice.

And that’s when it hit me. Listening – and I mean really listening – to another person and attempting to help them find a solution to their problem, without giving direct advice, can be pretty tough!

“The person-centred approach to counselling states that there are three ‘core conditions’ which the counsellor must have – respect, empathy and genuineness.”

Counselling is not about telling someone how you think they should solve their problems; it’s about offering an empathetic ear, as well as a non-judgemental and confidential environment, in which a client can work through their problems. The person-centred approach to counselling states that there are three ‘core conditions’ which the counsellor must have – respect, empathy and genuineness.

So, there I was – sat in front of my ‘client’ with ten minutes (which seemed like an eternity at the beginning of the task) to find out what was troubling them and hopefully try to guide them in the direction of a possible solution. When someone is passionate about what they’re telling you, they can tend to get carried away and speak quite quickly, so I was trying hard to take in all the information I was being given, whilst trying to make sure I was processing it quickly enough to have an open question on hand for when the client came to a natural pause (for example a question such as ‘Why do you think you felt that way?’, which does not allow for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer).

“It is so hard not to try and help to solve someone’s problems without interjecting with your own opinions and experiences.”

In the last three minutes of our first experiences as counsellors, we were asked to summarise the things the client had said and it was at this point that I really struggled to know how to communicate without offering my own opinion. I’ve been told that I’m a good listener and whilst I am able to listen effectively to someone else’s concerns, it is so hard not to try and help to solve someone’s problems without interjecting with your own opinions and experiences.

So many of us in day to day life, whether we’re aware of it or not, rarely listen to another person’s problem without mixing it in with some of our own problems. We may think we’re helping when we listen to someone’s problem and respond with something along the lines of: “If I were you I’d…” or “Why don’t you…?” etc., and perhaps on a personal level, this approach may help our friends from time to time, but counselling is not about advice giving.

From now on, in an attempt to improve my listening skills, I’m going to try and be more aware of how I respond when someone is telling me their troubles, leaving my opinions at the door and attempting to help the other person find the solution to their problem from within themselves.

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