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Reflective Listening

client centered therapy client-centered therapy client therapist understanding therapy

Listening practice used by psychotherapists that requires focus, intent, and very active participation.

Very often in Western culture, listening is considered to be the passive part of a conversation while speaking is seen as active. Reflective listening practices requires focus, intent, and very active participation. The term stems from work done by psychologist Carl Rogers who developed client-centered therapy. Rogers believed that by listening intently to the client, a therapist could determine best what the client needed. This was unlike psychoanalysis, which had more formula-like approaches that were used for all patients. Rogers wrote about reflection of attitudes, which asserts that a therapist needs to have empathic understanding with his/her client. Empathic understanding means understanding a person from his or her frame of reference. What a therapist attempts to do is reconstruct what the client is thinking and feeling and to relay this understanding back to the client. By explaining that he or she understands what the client is saying, a therapist is establishing a trust and clarifying the client's expression. For example, a client may make a statement like, "My mother is such a jerk. She's always telling me what to do and won't let me do anything I want to do." The therapist who uses reflective listening might respond by saying, "So you feel frustrated because you're mother treats you like a child instead of an adult." This will allow the client to feel understood and open up even more about his or her feelings about being a teenager. Alternately, a client may feel misunderstood and then try again to explain what he or she is thinking or feeling. This will also allow a therapist to make sure he or she is understanding the client.

By re-stating or reflecting what clients have expressed, the clients then listen to what they have said in a new way. They hear their feelings and thoughts in a different voice and can look at their life through another's eyes. Such therapy also helps a client to feel validated. This type of re-stating what has been heard is also called mirroring. This technique can be used in one-to-one therapy or group therapy.

Lara Lynn Lane

Further Reading

Baker, Ann C. and Patricia J. Jensen and David A. Kolb. In Conversation: Transforming Experience into Learning. Simulation and Gaming, Vol 28 (1), March 1997, pp. 6-12.

Gerwood, Joseph B. Nondirective Counseling Interventions with Schizophrenics. Psychological Reports, vol. 73, pp.1147-1151. 1993.

Rogers, Carl. Client-Centered Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications, and Theory. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, (1951)1965.

Sahakian, William S. History and Systems of Psychology. NY and London: Schenkman Publishing Co., 1975.

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