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!