Written by therapist Marissa Halstead
One of the many benefits of counseling is that counselors use empathetic listening skills, which are a form of active listening. Active listening takes a certain level of thoughtfulness before we speak, and is different from what we often experience in friendships. Most of us want to help others in need, but aren’t quite sure where to start. Thankfully, empathic listening is an effective way that we can support our loved ones in their most painful moments.
What is Empathetic Listening?
We’ve all experienced comments like, “At least you don’t have it as bad as…”, “You’ll be fine,” or, “Don’t be sad! Cheer up!” All of these examples are what not to do and are not examples of empathic listening. These comments leave people feeling unheard and sometimes wishing that they hadn’t brought anything up in the first place. Sometimes, people are insecure in what they are telling us and comments like these can lead to even greater insecurity. Even though we might mean well by saying these things, they are not actually helpful to the person who is suffering. Amidst suffering, no one looks back on their experience and wishes that they had received more advice. People are seeking support and empathetic listening is a great way to support someone.
Seek to Understand
Psychologist Carl Rogers had a lot to say about empathy and empathetic listening. When someone is empathetic listening, Rogers would say that the listener is, “entering the private perceptual world of the other and becoming thoroughly at home in it.” Even though there might be a desire to fix someone we love, we must merely experience their reality with them. When we change our motives from fixing to seeking to understand, we gain more empathy and compassion for the other person. Better yet, the person being heard feels more seen and understood in what they’re experiencing.
How to Empathetically Listen
Even if this sounds intimidating, empathetic listening is something that anyone can do! Some tips for the next time you are listening to someone are:
- Do not interrupt the speaker
- Repeat back the emotions that the speaker is experiencing
- Keep the topic about the speaker
Here are some responses and examples of empathetic listening:
- “That sounds really hard.”
- “It sounds like you’re saying…is that accurate?”
- “I am here for you.”
- *Saying nothing at all*
If you feel like you need support and desire to be heard, that’s okay! A therapist could be that partner or patient listener you’ve always wanted to help you in your struggle, or to help you become a better listener to others. Counseling is for everyone, no matter where you are in your life. Reach out to us here at Optimum Joy today if you have any questions and want greater support in your life.