How (And Why) to Listen Like a Therapist

Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact. — Robert McKee

Everyday, in my work, I have the honor of listening to the stories of others. And while the experience often provides a rich tapestry of understanding, acceptance and healing for them, I feel that I also walk away from every meeting with an irreplacable gift. More often than not, I see myself in each of their stories. I revisit my own sadness, happiness, struggles, and resilience. In each story I find myself.

My training as a therapist and more specifically as an engaged listener has translated beautifully in my personal life. The  active listening skills I’ve learned have allowed me to open myself to others and, perhaps more importantly, allowed others to open to me.

Our stories are one of the most powerful gifts we can offer each other.

And whatever the story, when you are fully engaged in hearing it, it has the power to  change you. It may give you a clearer picture of who you are, who you want to be or even who you don’t want to be.

Engaging in active listening frees the person you’re talking with to share their story. It frees you to understand the story. 

The following will help you open to the stories of others.

  • Fight the urge to judge what you’re hearing. For this moment your focus is understanding the feelings, perspectives and experiences of another person.
  • Face the person you’re engaging with. If you’re sitting down, lean in slightly. Maintain an open posture (uncrossed arms and legs). Maintain eye contact (this is not true in all cultures, in some cultures it is a sign of disrespect to look someone in the eye for a prolonged period of time).
  • Strive to fully understand the other person. Ask questions. Clarify what you’ve heard by reflecting it back in your own words.
  • Reflect what their body language is communicating. Sometimes people will communicate their emotions with their bodies while avoiding them with their words.
  • Thank them for sharing with you.

The ancient Sanskrit greeting, “namaste” loosely translates to “the divine in me greets the divine in you.” I believe we embrace the divine in each other when we share our stories.

Have you found yourself changed by another’s story? Please share your experiences in the comments section.

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2 Responses to “How (And Why) to Listen Like a Therapist”

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  1. Debbie Roes says:

    What a powerful article – I love it! I really like how you conveyed the importance of active listening as well as provided some easy to use tips for readers to get started right away.

    My educational background is in psychology, counseling, and coaching and I find that these skills come in handy in all facets of my life and in the various types of work I’ve chosen through the years. No matter what we do, we are relating to people, so anyone can take advantage of the excellent tips you’ve outlined. Great post!

    • Tara says:

      Hi Debbie,

      Thank you for your feedback! You’re right, all of those skills make us more effective in relationships across the board and I think the best part about it is modeling those behaviors and watching the ripple effect it can have on the people closest to you.

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