Listening to Hear

One question I love to ask fellow therapists is “How is change created?” Ultimately, it is this question that drives every encounter we have, not only in our profession, but in our personal lives as well. The individual’s answer to this question reveals their world view and personal beliefs about who we are and what we desire as humans. It gets the conversation to a deep level pretty quickly!

Many theories on change that we are taught in school boil down to focusing on either a person’s decision making and problem solving strategies, or changing their thought processes to change their behavior. Essentially, if we think positive thoughts, we act well. In response, acting well and getting positive results, increases our positive thoughts. Images of Peter Pan encouraging happy thoughts in order to fly come to mind.

It was in the trenches, once outside of academia, where I found greater clarity regarding change. I experienced that the greatest driver of motivation- and what we are all seeking- is to be heard, understood, and accepted. When those things are achieved, we tend to feel safer, less anxious, less depressed, and have an increase in positive social interactions. It goes a step beyond strategizing the change, and actually provides an experience in which the change and safety is felt in real time in the relationship.

For this reason, my favorite section of MHFA is non-judgmental listening. When presenting to a class, I talk about how this is foundational in approaching the individual and for encouraging engagement both in the moment and in future encounters the person may have with other professionals. I also share how incredibly difficult it is to do well.

In such encounters, we need to:

Monitor and set aside our own desires and goals

Be aware of what we communicate verbally and non-verbally

Be accepting of the individual’s experience of reality without judgment

Monitor and respond the individual’s verbal and non-verbal communications

Be aware of the other environmental factors within and around the crisis

All at the same time!

Without listening- and really hearing- we lose the most powerful tool in our belt. It is the hub from which all other interventions emerge, and the foundation upon which we build safe relationships. On the spectrum of interventions, listening is not just a small introduction into treatment, it is treatment.


Evan Page

Evan Page has specialized in providing therapy for families and teens struggling with trauma, attachment disorder, and mood regulation issues. Evan is currently a therapist with North Range Behavioral Health, serving as the School-Based Engagement Specialist.

The Be a Lifeline blog is so grateful to have Evan as one of our amazing guest bloggers. Be sure to check out his previous posts here and here. Want to learn more about how YOU can become a guest blogger like Evan? Head on over to the Share a Story page now!

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What do the behaviors we see in our students mean? Part 2

We’re guessing you were waiting for it, so here it is: Part 2 of Evan Page’s post about the behaviors we see in our students! In case you want a refresher, here’s where you can find Part 1. Thanks again, Evan!


I spent a few years working at a specialized residential treatment center. Our typical student had been struggling significantly in the home and at school. They had bounced from outpatient therapy to other residential centers and wilderness boot camps before coming to us. To get to that level of care, the behaviors have to be really rocking the boat especially in terms of relationships.

The students worked hard to keep distance between themselves and people who tried to help- and they were very good at it. Cussing, disrespect, and a general “screw you” attitude was fairly pervasive and, if you allowed yourself to get caught up in the onslaught on the surface, it would be easy to become hardened and resentful, building your own walls for protection.

However, I was able to avoid that trap each time by remembering their history and looking at the background that formed their lens. Abandonment, abuse, and neglect and the earliest of ages, when their lens was most vulnerable, formed a worldview that people were unsafe– even, and especially, those that said they wanted to help.

I share this to clean up your lens a bit. To wipe off that little smudge left by a former collogue, student, or bully from your past and to allow a clearer picture of what is happening. Our clients, students, and families are hurting in our communities. They have difficult home lives, lots of stress, little support, and feel insecure about who they are and their value to us. When we are able to have a clear understanding, we can have a softer heart and a more gentle approach. And that is what they really need.


Evan Page has specialized in providing therapy for families and teens struggling with trauma, attachment disorder, and mood regulation issues. Evan is currently a therapist with North Range Behavioral Health, serving as the School-Based Engagement Specialist.

What do the behaviors we see in our students mean? Part 1

In the continued celebration of Mental Health Awareness Month, we would like to celebrate a very special day today — May 7, 2015 is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day! And, we could think of no better way to celebrate than by introducing our first guest blogger — Evan Page, the School-Based Engagement Specialist at North Range Behavioral Health. This post is part one of a two-part series, so be sure to check in next Thursday to see part two. Thank you, Evan!


While negative behaviors may be concerning in and of themselves, it is important to remember that they are beacons, sending out pings of hidden distress. Tracking the signal backwards, behaviors we see are indicators of a hidden issue- a cause behind the symptoms. As community leaders and MHFA instructors, you have a fantastic view of behavior and, if you know what it translates to, you have a great head start toward deeper empathy for the people in your sphere of influence and you will be able to experience better self-care.

We are constantly communicating with ourselves, giving internal feedback for every action we take. The way we speak to ourselves is determined by how we view ourselves and the world. Different people will have different perceptions of the same situation as a result of how they take in and process information.

We can’t process all the information that happens in an event, so we subconsciously pick out bits and pieces that seem important and categorize them in our mind. What we select and categorize is heavily influenced by our past experiences and forms our beliefs.

The central belief about who we think we are (acceptable vs. unacceptable) is reflected in what we say in this inner dialogue. That dialogue then naturally flows out into our behaviors. Someone who constantly berates herself is going to act differently than the person who is happy and content with who she is.

Early life events — Beliefs — Inner dialogue — Behaviors

We all see life through a lens and no one has a crystal clear, unbiased picture of interactions in which we partake or events that we witness. We have smudges, cracks, and dust on the glass between us and the world as a result of our past. For a young man who has had traumatic experiences on the battlefield, a situation that may be harmless to others may send him into a flashback. The idea of the holidays arriving may bring up feelings of joy and excitement for some people, while dread and weariness fill others depending on the damage that has been done to their lens in past experiences, and the effectiveness of efforts to repair that damage.

So behaviors mean that something is going on beneath the surface– no surprise there. Having the knowledge of exactly what is going on is where you personally benefit.

(part two continued next week)


Evan Page has specialized in providing therapy for families and teens struggling with trauma, attachment disorder, and mood regulation issues. Evan is currently a therapist with North Range Behavioral Health, serving as the School-Based Engagement Specialist.