It is quite common to hear counsellors and psychotherapists say to themselves, or in group supervision, that they were only listening to the client and that there was a perceived absence of creative intervention in the therapy on their part. When I feel like this I must remember what Clarkson said about the therapeutic relationship.
Clarkson defined 5 aspects of relationships that were available to therapists as useful ways of relating to clients:
1. The working alliance;
2, The transferential/counter-transferential;
3. The reparative/developmentally needed;
4. The person to person;
5. The transpersonal.
Clarkson’s model is often seen as a hierarchical model, with the transpersonal at the top of the pile, but actually I see it as far more fluid whereby we can move between each one seamlessly. Listening is a huge part of any particular state of relating.
Rowan and Jacobs identified 3 different ways of being a therapist:
1. The instrumental self;
2. The authentic self;
3. The transpersonal self.
The instrumental self involves the client who is viewed as someone with problems which need to be put right by the client, by the therapist or by both. In the authentic position, the therapeutic relationship is seen as more important than in the instrumental way and the importance of relating. However, in the transpersonal way of being a therapist, relating is at the level of soul, heart or essence, often referred to as “linking”.
One example of such work occurs when we experience “deep empathy” which involves a change in “being” or “awareness” (Puhakka, 2000). Mearns states that the therapist’s presence alone can be healing for the client through the mirroring of the divine in the client.
There are, of course, various levels of listening and Peter Fenner offers a model: positive, negative and pure listening. Negative is when we listen through a filter of boredom whilst positive listening is marked by moods of interest and validation. it should be obvious what pure listening is. However, what needs to be added to this is the typical situation where our listening is distorted without our knowledge by influences from the past of which we are unaware (the shadow area).
So, next time you hear yourself saying I was only listening, then maybe it is time to re-evaluate that apparent shortcoming. Listening can be one of the greatest gifts we can give any client.