Reflective listening

Real listening can be a challenge when giving and a gift when receiving. Definite proof that we are listening, hearing and understanding what a person has said is one of the fundamental components of our intervention. We use reflective listening techniques to reflect the person’s statement back to them as well as summarizing our interpretation of their utterance.
We encourage carers to listen to what their loved one is telling them before saying it back in a different form. This then gives their loved one the opportunity to either agree or disagree with their interpretation of what has just been said.

Sufferer: You just sometimes feel so alone in all of this, like there’s no future, no way out.

Carer: So you’re feeling trapped.

Sufferer: That’s exactly how I feel.

Note the above example reflects not the exact words that the sufferer has used, but the gist of the message. The carer has interpreted his/her words as what might be meant or thought. Reflections need not and are not often restricted to what the person has said directly. Reflections are statements not another question. Reflections are not followed by advice about how to reduce the uncomfortable feelings.

When engaging in reflective listening, it quickly becomes apparent that decisions have to be made on what is reflected back. Undoubtedly, there will be a rich array of possibilities and it soon becomes evident that not all can be reflected upon. Reflective listening, may be challenging initially, particularly during times of high emotions. Until the carer feels comfortable with the process, it may easier to practice these skills during calmer periods, e.g. outside mealtimes.

Reflective listening can be surprisingly effective in helping people change (Miller & Rollnick, 2002). In motivational interviewing what one chooses to reflect back can make a difference. Simple and Complex reflections are two basic components of motivational interviewing:

Simple Reflections

These are nothing much more than an acknowledgement to the person of what they have said, i.e. to reflect it back and repeat it to them.

Sufferer: I’m trying to kind of … not be so much like that … by planning on talking to my GP, I’m trying to kind of show myself I can take care of myself and that I’m getting sorted out

Carer: So you’ve taken a significant step towards tackling this burden by making an appointment with your GP you are clearly putting great effort into planning how you can care for yourself (Simple reflection + affirmation)

Complex Reflections

Complex reflections involve taking a reflection and adding something to it. This is where you feed back what the person is saying, but add a bit onto it, usually increasing the intensity. The skill lies in choosing what to intensify. It is usually the resistant element that you choose to intensify.

Sufferer: Actually maybe even speaking with David, my partner about what I would hope could be a plan for us as a family. Yeah because if I’m going to talk with him I need to know in my own mind that he will take some of the strain away from me. And maybe together, maybe he has ideas as well and I think it’s important for him to hear what I’m saying. Because you know at times I’ve not talked with him, I’ve been so involved with myself and, to an extent, excluded him.

Therapist: So if I’ve got it right, you’re saying that if you had time to reflect more with David that he might be able to give you another perspective of how to break from this trap. (Complex reflection)

Reflections open in the following ways:

Sounds like
From your point of view
So if I’ve got it right, you’re saying that
What I’m hearing is
As I understand it
So what you’re telling me is .
To read more on advanced listening skills click here