Communication Skills

Dr. Patrick J. DiVietri, Ph.D., CPC, OCDS

People usually think of communication as simply talking, listening and understanding.  We talk and listen so that we might understand someone else or that they might understand us.  Therefore when couples say, “we have a communication problem” what they usually mean is “We don’t talk, listen or understand.”  Talking and listening are really communication skills.  Although they are very important, true communication is something more as we will see later in this section.  We will see that the most serious communication problems occur in that area.  At this time, we will look at the communication skills so that they might be clearer to parents.

A principle that we will express is that communication is quite natural and therefore many parents and couples are already successful and skillful in these areas.  It is contained within the virtue of sociability.  It therefore helps to identify the rudiments of conversation and sociability.  Communication skills are principally: talking, listening, understanding and virtues.

1)       Talking

a)       To express something, to be understood or to understand

2)       Listening

a)       To hear something, to understand

3)       Understanding

a)       To know something, to unite

4)       Virtues

a)       To express love, to know happiness


Dr. Patrick J. DiVietri, Ph.D., CPC, OCDS, Taken from Guide to Pastoral Counseling, © 2003, pp. 102-103.

“The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God”[1].   -St. Gregory of Nyssa

Counseling can be simplified into considering the following:

“The ability to understand in an empathetic way and provide direction”

If we think about therapy and what takes place we can see that people have something that causes them pain or unhappiness.  They may not understand it or be able to express it.  They may not be able to see anything to do about it.  This will require empathy to share some sense of their experience and how it affects them.  One can readily see that a myriad of virtues are required not only for the counselor but for the benefit of the directee who will need recourse to the cardinal virtues and their various parts.[2]

One can therefore keep the concept of virtue in mind while considering four aspects of counseling:

1.   Helping one to express what they are feeling or experiencing.

  • The ability to express a thing gives one control over that thing in that one is able to table an unconscious thing, make it conscious, give form to it by some description and communicate that to another.  This expression also eases the pain of it.  As St. Thomas says, “a hurtful thing hurts more if we keep it shut up, because the soul is more intent on it: whereas if it be allowed to escape, the soul’s intention is dispersed as it were on outward things, so that the inward sorrow is lessened. When expressed it is less hurtful.”[3]

2.  Someone listening, understanding and providing sympathy

  • Aristotle said that when one is in pain, it is natural that the sympathy of a friend should afford consolation.[4]  St. Thomas explains the twofold reason for this is first because, “since sorrow has a depressing effect it is like a weight thereof we strive to unburden ourselves: so that when a man sees others saddened by his own sorrow, it seems as though others were bearing the burden with him, striving as it were, to lessen its weight; wherefore the load of sorrow becomes lighter for him: something like what occurs in the carrying of bodily burdens.  The second and better reason is because when a man’s friends condole with him, he sees that he is loved by them, and this affords him pleasure.”[5]  “All pleasure assuages pain.”[6]

3.  The expression of another’s understanding brings pleasure and contentment to the one who feels understood.

  • It cannot be overemphasized how important it is to understand another.  It is the most profound expression of love that is possible.  There is no greater desire within a human being than to understand and to be understood.  When someone understands it brings more healing than most anything that can follow.  90% of counseling issues involve facing questions together and understanding.  If a counselor can understand the question that faces the directee he will ease most of the impasse or wound.

4.  The counsel may include a direction, which is necessary for healing of a disposition to take place.

  • Counsel provides prudential judgment to the situation so as to gain wisdom and hope for a course, which will bring resolution, growth and healing.  That direction will include the practice of a variety of virtues.

[1] St. Gregory of Nyssa, De beatitudinibis 1: p 44, 1200D.

[2] See Fr. Chad Ripperger, Introduction to the Science of Mental Health, Vol. 2.

[3] Summa Theologica, Q. 38 Pt. I-II, A. 2

[4] Aristotle, Ethics, ix.

[5] Summa Theologica, Q. 38 Pt. I-II, A. 3

[6] Summa Theologica, Q. 32 Pt. I-II, A. 5