“Don’t therapize me!,” “I hate it when you psychoanalyze me!”, or “Cut out that psychobabble!” Phrases like these epitomize commonly thought of adverse reactions to psychotherapy. What does your picture of psychotherapy look like?
The face of psychotherapy whether practiced in an office, from a book, or in the media typically looks like a guru giving advice, analyzing and directing people in how they should feel, behave and think.
There certainly are situations, such as phobias, psychosis and biochemical imbalances, that require specific treatments. But, for most of us normal neurotics, our struggle to find self-esteem and purpose in our lives is exacerbated by advice. We don’t need to go to therapists for what we can get from, “Dear Abbey.”
Most psychological training does not include advice giving. But with a little bit of knowledge something mysterious happens. When we think we know or should know what’s right for people the tendency to analyze and direct people seductively creeps in. (Of course, even though we would never do that we all know people who do.)
Analyzing and directing is not helpful in moving toward knowing what our heart truly and uniquely wants. It also does not demonstrate understanding and faith that a person can work out his/her own solutions.
The heart of psychotherapy is a therapon. “Therapon” comes from the Greek word, which means common struggle. A heart-connected therapist is a comrade in a common struggle. Compassionate listening is being a therapon.
Compassionate listeners do not analyze or criticize others, nor tell others what is wrong with them or what they should do. They just listen with their hearts. Such listening allows them to empathize rather than judge.
We can all be therapons. We then give to others what we all yearn for – to feel understood. With compassionate listening you “gift” another person with feeling thoroughly heard and respected.
When someone “gets with you,” it communicates that they believe in you. This helps you believe in yourself. It’s like coming up from a suffocating sea of communications where you are not OK, into a breath of fresh air.
Listening with compassion involves learning about your partner. In this regard, some of the most useful words ever spoken were revealed centuries ago in the prayer of St. Frances of Assisi: “Grant me that I may not so much seek to be understood as to understand.”
Listening with compassion entails listening for the feelings underneath what a person is saying and then reflecting back to that person what you sense he/she is feeling. Doing this requires quieting the mind chatter that is preparing solutions and responses, being present and focused on hearing with ears connected to your heart.
When heart-connected, you do not need to have the answers. It is not your responsibility to solve another’s problem. You only need to listen to them share and provide the opportunity to move the conversation from head to heart.
How often have you shared difficult feelings and felt thoroughly heard and completely respected? How often have you given this gift to others? What concerns or questions do you have regarding being a therapon?