Empathetic Listening: The New Stress Reliever
Are you longing for a sense of emotional and relation connection, decreased anxiety, and greater awareness and compassion? Look no further than empathetic listening.
In the world of hospice, a common goal for our patients is often called, “Life Review.” This is about when we listen empathetically to a patient as they tell wonderful stories about their lives and for me, it is the best part of the job.
“Sara,” told me about how she came to Reno to live with her mom for the six weeks it took to get her divorce. She also shared that although she ended up living with her mother, her father was actually the better parent.
“John” told me about how, at eighteen, he was put in charge of dismantling explosives after WWII. He was over of a group of more experienced men who had been doing this for years and tolerated his youth and inexperience with good humor.
“Anna,” told me about raising seven children on a farm that had no running water and a husband who did nothing to help. These struggles made her stronger.
Change Your Brain, Reduce Anxiety, Breathe a Sigh of Relief
Interestingly, this kind of listening is not just a nice thing to do for a patient who might otherwise be ignored, neglected, or have few opportunities to talk and really be listened to. It is actually beneficial for both the speaker and the listener.
In his book, Anatomy of the Soul, Curt Thompson, M.D. says this about empathetic listening:
“An important part of how people change—not just their experiences, but also their brains – is through the process of telling their stories to an empathic listener. When a person tells her story and is truly heard and understood, both she and the listener undergo actual changes to their brain circuitry. They feel a greater sense of emotional and relational connection, decreased anxiety, and greater awareness of and compassion for others’ suffering.”
So, today’s the day! Start now. Find someone to listen to! Really listen, ask questions, hear their stories with your heart, as well as your head. This will Change Your Brain. Isn’t that amazing? The health benefits of listening are not much talked about but apparently have great effect.
Practice at home, with your spouse, your child, your grandchild, the cashier at the supermarket… It’s worth it, not just for the person you listen to, but for you as well.
Interested in listening compassionately to older people? Hospices are always looking for volunteers to sit with their patients and empathetically listen. Contact a local hospital near you for information regarding training to become a volunteer.
Jacci Turner, a licensed marriage and family therapist, is the Director of Bereavement and Spiritual Care for a small community hospice. She is also the author of ten published books for young adult and middle grade children. Her latest book, The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening, is available in paperback and ebook. Jacci enjoys training and supervising spiritual directors and writing blogs about spiritual formation. You can find out more about Jacci at her website: http://www.jacciturner.com/