Explorations in the Theory and Practice 
of Massage Therapy and Bodywork 

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Active Listening
Listening to what your client says and really understanding where they are coming from is probably half the process of healing. When a client perceives that someone is really listening from their heart, they can more easily acknowledge their pain and issues. Everything we need to know about how to take care of ourselves and eliminate pain from our bodies is inside of us. You can talk to the client about what you may think they need to do, but true healing takes place when the client discovers what they need to do for themselves. Active listening is one way to honor this process.  Active listening empowers clients to know that they are already whole even with whatever injury, disease or condition that they come in with.

Some keys to active listening include:

  •  Let the speaker finish without interrupting them.
  • Concentrate on what they are saying - don't be thinking about what you are going to have for lunch. Stay in the present moment.
  • All information is relevant, even though you may think it is boring and unnecessary.
  • Look the person directly in the eyes.
  • Ask open ended questions such as How? Why? Could? Would?
  • Reflect what you hear back to the client with statements like "Tell me more about that, If I understand you correctly, you feel that"....
  • Trust the persons ability to find solutions on their own.
  • Try not to project your own feelings, ideas and opinions on to the speaker.  Find out what your beliefs are so that you are more able to understand when you are projecting. I talk about projections more in psychology section.  You can learn more about your own projections through the process of supervision and peer supervision groups
  • Don't assume that the person's feelings and perspectives of others are the same as yours.
  • Listen for the purpose of understanding rather than to achieve agreement.
  • As a health care provider, this active listening may become clouded with experiences, training and feeling. 

An example of this is a story someone emailed to me after the last newsletter.
"My experience of being worked on by a woman my age or older:
Practitioner: "At your age you are probably experiencing all the symptoms of menopause."
Client (me): "No, I'm not menopausal. Everything's still like it always was."
Practitioner: "Well, at your age you will soon begin to experience all the symptoms of menopause."
Client: "Well, for now everything is still like it always was. And I don't see why I should agonize over things before they happen. It will happen when it happens. Why make my life a misery over it before then?"
Practitioner: "Ah, the wisdom of old age. You're probably already beginning to experience all the little aches and pains of old age."
Client: "No, I have no aches or pains. I'm perfectly fit, in fact I'm running a 10km race on Sunday."
Practitioner: "Ahh, that's very brave at your age."
Client: (Just a silent, inner SCREEEAM)
Then the practitioner started going on about the "stiffness" in my hands. I've never felt any stiffness in my hands!! Now I felt incipient panic.
For how long will I still be able to play the guitar? For how long will I still be able to hike on the mountain? How long do I have left to live?

Yes, perhaps a lesson in learning to relax while being put under stress, learning "grace under pressure," so to speak, but that was not what I paid for! Perhaps she meant well, trying for empathy, but surely step one in empathy is to listen.

This is a clear example of not actively listening. The therapist was not listening to the client and was "pushing" her opinion (most likely based on her own experiences) onto the client. 

You can add your own "horror stories" in the comments section of the weblog or on the bulletin board.

To learn more about active listening and how to incorporate it into your practice, I highly recommend finding a supervisor or starting a peer supervision group where you can explore these issues with others who are most likely challenged by this themselves.

I have started a website, www.massagepracticebuilder.com for just that purpose.  www.massagepracticebuilder.com members will learn more about active listening by starting and participating in their own peer supervision groups and by hiring me as your supervisor!

Finding a Supervisor for your Massage Practice ] Supervision Defined ] The Need for Supervision in Massage and Bodywork ] [ Active Listening ]












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