Reflective Listening

The work of the psychologist is to bring his client to a greater participation in his life. One of the psychologists fundamental tools is reflective listening. Lets look at what reflective listening is and why it is such a powerful way to help our clients grow.

To listen reflectively means to hear what another is saying in order to present it back to them. Not merely the simple repetition of the clients words but rather, it is the ideas and feelings of the client which are represented to him by the therapist.

For example if a client is speaking about their parents and how frustrating they are a therapist might respond to the clients account with, “You are frustrated by your parents actions.” This forces the client to see their account from an external perspective and not simply as one involved in the content of the story. The therapist need not necessarily agree with the clients reactions – after all the client may have no reason to be frustrated – nevertheless the therapist can reflect back to the client their real experience.  Reflective listening is a tool to help clients test the veracity of their thoughts by hearing them from another person instead of hearing them as part of their minds continuous monologue. The clients thoughts are externalized when they are reflected back to him by the therapist, just as they are in play and art therapy.

Having their thoughts externalized the client is able then to react to the thought in a way they never could when it was part of their interior monologue.

By extension we may take a slightly more active role in reflective listening by adding our own interpretation to the thought. New words, no longer the clients own, to describe the client, and thus adding greater color, richer texture so to speak to the clients story.

At first glance reflective listening seems to be an impractical tool, after all how can simply repeating what the client said avail any change? Reflective listening is an act of faith on our part. It can only be practiced if you believe that the client has within them that which is needed to effect change. It is an act of faith in our clients ability to reason, and to understand their emotions, to know what will make them happy, and to choose what is most beneficial for them. No therapist can genuinely employ reflective listening if he does not believe his clients are able to change.