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Learning how to listen therapeutically is an important way to develop your capacity to offer support and affirmation. In this lesson, discover how these activities will help you develop your therapeutic listening skills.

Why Therapeutic Listening Matters

As someone in a helping profession, you have probably thought quite a bit about the importance of listening. When you listen to another person, you learn more about their experience and become better equipped to help them. Therapeutic listening is a kind of listening that embeds therapeutic support into the listening process.

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When you listen therapeutically, you show another person that they are important to you, and you offer support even as you let their voice remain central.Learning to listen therapeutically is not something that can happen instantaneously. In fact, therapeutic listening takes time, practice, and patience. It means really honoring emotion in all of its complexity and learning to sit with the experience of someone who might be very different from yourself.

One of the best ways to practice therapeutic listening is via activities. The activities in this lesson are designed to make you a better therapeutic listener and someone who can offer strong support, love, and guidance to those who are in need of it.

Therapeutic Listening Activities

Repeat It Back

This is an activity that you can do with one partner or in a small group.

Ask one person in the partnership to share a story from his or her life. The story can be something superficial, or it can also be something deeper and more meaningful. The task of the listener or listeners is to remain quiet while the speaker talks, then repeat the story back to the original speaker in as much detail as possible. When you practice repeating a story back, you show the speaker that you honor their words and their experience. You demonstrate that you were focused on their story and cared about what they have to say.

Make sure everyone in each group or partnership has a turn to play all of the roles in this activity.

Reflect on Being Heard

This is an activity that you can do independently, though it also works well with a partner. The activity asks that you think about your own experiences being listened to and heard. This sort of reflection helps you apply what you have learned from your own experience to the kind of listening you have offered others.

To do this activity, write in a journal about a time that you needed a good listener and got what you needed from someone else. Write about what that listener did to help and support you. Then, write about a time that you encountered an ineffective therapeutic listener. Compare and contrast these reflections and talk with others about the lessons you take from them.

Body Language Practice

Being a strong therapeutic listener is also about facial expression and body language. This activity helps you think about the nonverbal cues you use when you are listening to someone else. Work in groups of three for this activity. One person is the camera person, while the others engage in conversation. Ask the camera person to make a video of your conversation. Then, watch the video.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What body language do I use when I am speaking?
  • What body language do I use when I am listening?
  • What does my body language communicate about my stance?
  • How might I alter my body language to show that I am open and caring?

Discuss your answers with the others in your group.

Hard Times to Listen

Finally, therapeutic listening sometimes means bearing witness to things that might be very challenging. Hearing about someone’s traumatic experience can be a trigger, and hearing someone say things you disagree with vehemently can also be a challenge. Write yourself a letter in which you list some of the experiences you have had when listening was difficult. Then, choose a symbol, phrase, or physical stance you will use the next time this sort of challenge arises. What can you picture, say, or do with your body to help make the difficult listening easier for you and make yourself more available as a listener? Hold yourself accountable for this and reward yourself when you are able to enact your plan.

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