“In what ways is simply listening already a healing process and therapy
for both the client and the yoga therapist?”

Being heard and understood is a primal need most humans require. In infants, it becomes a matter of physical survival (hungry, tired, uncomfortable) and in adults it creates connection & peace and is a huge component in emotional safety. My work requires me to listen to people’s stories and feelings; always interesting to me, so that part comes somewhat easily. What comes less easily is listening without judgment and quelling my instinct to offer (what I perceive) as helpful advice.

With regard to the therapeutic process, empathetic listing/active listening, is a technique that was employed by *Otto Rank, and those of us who have been in therapy know it is used to help pt’s feel validated and safe in order to better decode what they are feeling/thinking. This can be effective, though it can also appear clinically distant and false. Being in a position to listen is an honor for the person listening, but can be harder for the person speaking because they are the vulnerable ones, and of course can sense judgment (who doesn’t judge!!!).

So, how can both listener and listenee have skin in the game?

When listening challenged, I try to shape my listening skills towards coming from a place of relating -especially when my judgments are flaring up. And if relating is impossible, then I try to practice active empathy (how great was Susan Sarandon in Dead Man Walking!). If empathy proves to be impossible, I try to flip back to my feelings in an attempt to acknowledge my judgment reactions. So, perhaps the dialogue of jumping between relating, empathy and being aware of judgment response, is the sweet spot where both parties learn from one another and true mutual connection occurs.

* As per my Uncle Kit (a psychologist): other notable experts in this field include, Carl Rogers, Heinz Kohut’s ,D.W. Winnicott and Martin Buber (who distinguished between “I –Thou” and “I – It” relationships. Buber, extended this “I – Thou” beyond human encounters, so that you could have an “I – Thou” relationship with your dog, and be the better for it, being for a moment in touch with something larger than you) with overlapping themes from religion, philosophy, psychology, psychoanalysis –– that speaks to the value of two humans encountering one another with a sense of immediacy, lack of judgment, and empathy. My two cents is that whatever “active listening” is, it’s probably a component nowadays in all sorts of interpersonal approaches, be they more psychoanalytic, or cognitive-behaviorlal, or relational, or self-psychological, or whatever the names are. Everyone is engaged to some degree in a co-construction of meaning –– where neither the therapist nor the client owns knowledge, and where “active listening” would have to play some role. Also, this is no different than any significant conversation that any one of us has with anybody (as opposed to asking the butcher for a pound of sliced provolone). If I am talking to Jody, I will be trying to understand what she is saying (or doing), and I will always fail –– a bit anyway –– because the gap between what Jody said and what I heard may be vast. I will be trying to feed back (without sounding like a parrot) what I think she’s expressing but I’ll leave a mental space for the likelihood that there’s more to it than I know. (Unless what she said was, “Can you pass me the remote?”).

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