Empathic Listening within the Counseling Space
By Tayler Terrell, Masters Level Intern
When is the last time that you felt someone truly heard what you said? I want to be clear in that when I use the phrase “truly heard”, I am referencing a moment where someone created a space where you felt there was a sense of mutual understanding and trust. If you can recall a moment similar to this, pause for a second and think about how it made you feel. If you had to describe what makes you feel heard, what would you even say? While it might be difficult to know for sure how to describe what makes you feel heard, there is a general sense of knowing that someone you are communicating with has an open mind and cares to hear about what you have to say.
What is Empathic listening and how it’s beneficial?
It’s important to know what empathic listening is and how it can help to enhance and develop communication. Empathic listening is identified as a technique that creates a deeper understanding from an intellectual and emotional standpoint. When empathic listening is being incorporated into the communication the listener is available to receive and interpret the speaker’s message. Empathic listening is beneficial in that it builds trust amongst those communicating, encourages shared emotions, welcomes continued conversation, and lastly provides a safe and open space for communication.
Stages of Empathic Listening
These stages are presented in an effort to demonstrate how to build on empathic listening. Each stage has a unique purpose and while some might be best used in certain situations, each has a benefit from the speaker and listener’s perspective.
- Mimicking Content references repeating what the speaker has mentioned but it is noted to be the least effective in the empathic listening stages.
- Rephrasing the Content is a form of restating what the speaker communicated through the listener’s own word choice.
- Reflecting Feelings restates what the speaker communicated but also recounts the speaker’s feelings on the information that was communicated.
- Rephrasing Content and Reflecting Feelings combines both stages to ensure what is restated accurately reflects the speaker’s feelings and provides the speaker with an opportunity to further clarify or elaborate.
Incorporating Empathic Listening in the Counseling Space
In counseling, I find that being an empathic listener goes beyond just understanding and listening to the words that are being relayed. The client-centered therapeutic approach addresses the importance of a counselor demonstrating an empathic understanding with the client. This encourages acceptance and support of the client. The counselor as an empathic listener acknowledges the feelings that are associated with the words spoken by the client while demonstrating compassion. A counselor might not share the same sentiment or view as the client, but a key component in empathic listening is remaining open-minded to hear what the client is going through from their perspective in their own words.
Tips for Incorporating Listening with Empathy
- Keep an open nonjudgmental mindset
- Limit distractions
- Actively listen with your mind and body language
- Allow silent moments
- Clarify meaning for deeper insight
Crisis Prevention Institute . (2016, October 12). [web log]. Retrieved August 31, 2022, from https://www.crisisprevention.com/Blog/7-Tips-for-Empathic-Listening.
The Benefits of Empathic and Reflective Listening. (2013, April 9). [web log]. Retrieved August 31, 2022, from http://blog.ttuhsc.edu/spirit5/2013/april/the-benefits-of-empathetic-and-reflective-listening.aspx.
Wilson, C. (2021, October 29). [web log]. Retrieved August 31, 2022, from https://positivepsychology.com/empathic-listening/#stages.