Thursday, May 30, 2013

Listening Always Comes First

So there's a great little video called It's Not About the Nail out in the electronic ether, all about the importance of listening.  Upon watching it one thinks about relationship contexts mainly, especially the oft-seen tendency of men to fix things instead of just empathizing and supporting their partners.

Ah but the video is a great object lesson for professional helpers.  There is a strong sense of urgency among many healthcare providers to quickly and efficiently apply the "intervention" to the "symptom", because that is what the diagnosing/insurance/billing industrial complex demands. The forces behind this complex are tremendous and so embedded in some helping systems that many don't stop and think for a moment about how this form of "helping" may be affecting the "helped".

Sometimes, it doesn't matter how "right" the helper is.  The one receiving the help must feel heard and understood first, as this facilitates acceptance and motivation to be helped in the first place.  I recall a story about a homeless woman, hungry and cold, who upbraided a good Samaritan for "throwing me a bone".  Before she received food and clothing, she wanted to be understood.  In particular she wanted her pain to be understood.  That was her primary need at the moment.  Her "helpers" assumed her physical needs were more fundamental than her emotional or spiritual needs.  This is where many of us go awry.

The video takes us back to the early days of our training.  We were first taught basic helping skills, such as empathy, genuineness, positive regard and active listening.  Somehow the systems we work in may distract us from these elemental approaches to human suffering.  Let's go back then, and learn this all over again.  If you are involved in training the next generation of helpers, consider showing them the video.  After the jokes subside, tell them to get serious about this one.