“Grant that I may understand”

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

Understanding is the most important element of counseling, without exception.  It is the quality that is most expressive of love and which allows one to share in the state of another and thus the primary means of healing.  The direction that is then provided by the pastoral counselor is also of critical importance and is often be essential for healing.  However, good counsel is first dependent upon proper understanding.  The guidance which reflects the greatest understanding of the person, their situation and the Truth, will be the one, which most prudently contributes to the person’s health & happiness.  Therefore, the counselor must focus upon understanding the person and their situation within the context of reality.

Then help the person to understand himself or herself and feel understood.  It will likely follow that someone else must be helped to understand.  And that will be a common task in family or relationship counseling.  Thus the first objective will be to help the listener understand and express that understanding.  All else is secondary and nothing else is as important.  One must understand what it is that the beloved wants to be understood and then understand what response the beloved desires.  Getting people to recognize this process, slow down their reactions to one another so as to reflect upon what is being said and not only gain a better understanding but choose the responses and selection of words better, and breaking the dynamics that take place are the most common work in interpersonal counseling.

Understanding is an intimate knowledge, penetrating to the essence.  It involves a mental grasp, a comprehension. To say, “I see,” communicates that I have a complete knowledge.

Understanding is the most important expression of love.  It is a form of charity, the highest of all loves.  It is the most important gift that can be given because all persons desire to understand themselves and to know themselves.  Self-knowledge only comes in relationship to others.  One comes to know oneself through one’s relationship to God, relationship to spouse or relationship to other people, family, friends and society.

Listening to Understand Exercise

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

One must listen and talk “well” in order to understand another person.  This means that one exhibits certain qualities, which create an ambiance of warmth and acceptance.  The listener acts in a way to make the speaker feel that they are accepted and understood.  These qualities are mostly comprised of virtues, which express love for the speaker.  The virtue that is most expressive of love being the virtue of understanding.

If we want to be more understanding ourselves it may help us to think about someone who understood us and try to remember the qualities we appreciated in that person at the time.


Think of a time when you felt like someone understood you well.

  • How did it feel?
  • How did he/she treat you?
  • What qualities did you see in him or her?


Did he or she:

  • Give eye contact?
  • Have an expressive face?
  • Give the impression he or she liked you.
  • How did they show they were listening?
  • How did they show that the understood?


Was the person . . . ?

Quiet/ docile



















All of these qualities culminate in a simple dynamic that is at the heart and soul of good communication skills, that is, willing and attentive listening.

Willing and Attentive Listening

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

Willing and attentive listening is the central dynamic of communication skills.  The primary concern is the speaker and what he or she is trying to communicate.  Listening enables one to see situations more clearly and thus help another person.

We know that one’s emotional disposition improves from being understood. When something is expressed its intensity lessens.  Solutions become clearer when someone else listens to the problem.

Good listening facilitates better understanding.  This enables someone to respond in a way that shows he/she understands.  New information and opinion are secondary to understanding what the other person is saying.

Listening expresses love for the other person.

Listening shows the importance and value of the other person.  It is a form of courtesy and respect.  We can easily see the therapeutic value that it has when we consider that the counseling profession is dominated by this one dynamic.  People come to a counselor so that they can find understanding.  The counselor listens with the major objective of grasping what the client is saying.  This principle dynamic begins to assuage the stress that the client is experiencing.  It helps when one can express themselves, can be understood by another, and that the other person can put that understanding into their own words.

Listening well acknowledges a respect for human dignity.

We can show that the person is worthy of our full attention and all else seems secondary at the moment.  When my son was very young he would approach his mother or me as we were focusing upon something else and want to talk to us.  However, he would not begin speaking until he had our full attention.  To accomplish this, he would place his little hands on both sides of our face and turn our heads toward him so that he could look us square in the eye.  If we slipped back, he would repeat this.  He tended not to do this in front of others so there wasn’t any reason to correct him for interrupting and he was so sincere and what he was asking for was simple.  “I want your attention. What I have to say is important.”  He was right.  It was important because he was important to me.

A further example is obvious to married couples.  If a woman has something to say, she is rarely impressed with her husband’s allocation of some cursory portion of his attention while he is preoccupied with the TV or the newspaper.  Women and children have a gift for reducing something to its simplest form.  “What is more important to you, what you are doing or me?”  “If it is me, then show it.”    However, when it comes to love and what is valued, actions still speak more loudly than words.  It is important to express one’s devotion with words but those words must be demonstrated through affection and actions.  The first act of love is attentiveness.


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

Talking is the paramount social quality.  People like to talk and at times need to talk.  It is the way that most social interchange takes place.  People entertain themselves in conversation with one another and discuss whatever topics arise in mutual interest.  One of the basic principles for making new friends is to find out what someone is interested in and getting them to talk about it.

Sometimes people need to talk.  It may be that there is something that they want someone to know or to do.  It can be that they have feelings that they want to express.  Sometimes there are painful memories that talking helps to soothe and heal.  When one can express a hurtful thing they feel better because the hurtful thing is less intense when it is expressed into words and when someone else can hear and offer sympathy and support.

The key ingredient to sociability is to draw the other person out by showing that we are sincerely interested in them.  This is usually done by finding out what the other person is interested in and getting them to talk about it.  This tends to create a sense of warmth and acceptance, which, in turn, creates an environment of trust, which helps the other person to relax and be more open.  As the listener then we may share something of ourselves that relates to what has been said, but with the spirit of supporting or showing further interest in what the speaker is saying.  This would be contrasted by the tendency to pull the conversation away from the speaker and focus upon oneself.  As the focus of attention on oneself increases, the other person may feel less important and may become more passive.  There are of course, many who simply like to listen and others who like to talk.

Thus, what is most common, is that these two types of people get together and one talks and the other listens.  Yet, even the listener needs someone to listen to them.  There are too many people who have not had someone who took the time to listen and take an interest in him or her.  Talkers may have such a good time talking and enjoy revealing their own ideas that they never stop to think about who the person is that they are talking to.  They may never stop to get to know the other person.  The other person may have listened to everyone else’s life stories and feelings but those same talkers never took the time to listen to them.

A typical example was young college age woman who listened to several friends as they spoke about their problems and feelings but when she needed them to listen to her, no one was there.  None of the friends took an interest in what she needed to talk about.  One friend started to listen but quickly turned the subject to herself and the young woman’s needs were totally lost.  This produces a sense of loneliness and isolation.  When one says, “I have no friends,” it may be that they do not have someone who not only shares mutual interests but one who possesses a mutual interest in them; someone who wants to know them and is interested in what they are saying and need; someone who cares enough to take the time to listen; someone who wants to take the time to form a relationship. We see, then, that there are other qualities involved in good communication skills.