In Silent Grief: Living in the Wake of Suicide, Christopher Lukas and Henry M. Seiden share eight rules that counselors who want to listen well should consider. Although the book focuses on those who grieve the loss of a loved one who committed suicide, these counseling listening tips can apply to many grief situations.
8 Rules to Help Counselors Listen Well:
1. The first goal is to establish a listening attitude. Truly helping as a counselor is impossible unless you are able to listen and listen well. Seeking to make that a part of your natural response is a good step in the direction of listening well.
2. Saying back—telling people what you hear them saying—is where the whole process begins. There are at least three benefits of this technique: it requires the listener to pay attention to the speaker’s thought and not his or her own, it makes survivors feel heard and reassured that the listener knows what they are talking about, and it allows the person being listened to carry on their thinking to the next step.
3. If you get stuck or don’t get it—say so. It helps no one to pretend you understand something when in fact you are utterly confused. Mine away at the truth by asking clarifying questions, because clarity for both the counselor and counselee is vitally important.
4. Another way of giving something is to say what you are feeling as you listen. Instead of always focusing on advice to give, give your reaction to a specific circumstance telling the other person how what they are telling you makes you feel. The goal of this is to help the other person carry their line of thinking forward.
5. Sometimes it is possible to talk about what is going on between you and the survivor. This can help a person be more aware of his or her communication. For example, sharing “You make me feel sad about _________” or “You might be expecting too much from me as a counselor” could help the counselee focus, clarify, and understand his or her own experience.
6. Look for shifts in meaning. Do things seem different for the person in need? Do you see any signs of improvement? If you observe a notable change, it is possible the person is moving forward in their thinking and processing of the issue at hand.
7. Be prepared for things to move slowly. Counselors often need to walk with counselees for extended stretches of time to help them deal with their issues and work through what they are experiencing. Be patient, celebrate progress, take heart, and don’t give up.
8. Be prepared to back off. Sometimes counseling doesn’t help the one being counseled. This is not necessarily due to a failure as part of the counselor, but can be because the counselee or specific situation needs to be worked through individually, and adding another person can complicate matters. Know when to let the counselee go, but always make sure they know you are ready to listen if they choose to come back.
Bonus Resources for Christian Counselors:
Book: Christian Counseling by Dr. Gary Collins (The best single volume on Christian Counseling)