A series of occasional articles looking at counselling and counselling training.

Listening and being listened to

There are many types of counselling, and lots of fancy theories, but one thing remains essential: the act of attentive listening, writes counsellor Mike Brooks (8.3.19).

When I did my first counselling training course, the first thing we did was a simple listening exercise - we got into pairs and took it in turns to speak to each other uninterrupted, then have the other person repeat back what they had just heard. I was blown away by the experience of being listened to! It struck me that - never mind counselling - this is what the whole world should be doing: if we all simply listened to each other, the world would be a better place!

Some people have such little experience of being listened to that when it happens, as part of counselling for example, it can feel strange, even uncomfortable. But, on the whole, I would suggest most people want to be listened to. Unfortunately, it's relatively rare in a relationship to have two people actively give each other attention and try to understand what the other is saying. There is a joke: ‘A bore is someone who keeps talking about themselves when I want to talk about myself.'

When I feel listened to - when I feel I have been heard - I feel valued. The more we listen, and feel listened to, the more we will want to share, and intimacy will grow as part of a two-way relationship.

According to theory, when a child enters the world, if no-one pays them attention, they won't even realise they exist, let alone feel loved. If no-one notices me - if no-one tries to understand what I am saying, thinking or feeling - then why would I imagine I matter? This is how many of our problems begin: our caregivers, as much as we might love them, weren't always the best listeners.

So, whether we're talking about counselling or our relationships, let's start listening to each other. I'm sure we'll all be the better for it.