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.

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Active Listening

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

Active listening is a very popular concept, which we often hear about.  A brief description of one approach is presented here for a point of reference and information.  Again we will find the components to be quite natural to a good listener.

Focus on the person and what is said; minimize outside distractions.

Watch the nonverbal expressions.  Ask yourself, “How is it said?” “What is the facial and body language?” Remember that it is difficult to put emotions into words.  Emotions are naturally expressed in body language and it is easy to misinterpret expressions and body language

Accept the person even when what is said is not accepted.  Understanding does not mean agreement with the other person is saying.  For example, one may understand how a person came to commit a crime but not agree with the decision or the rationalization. The acceptance is first toward who the person is and secondarily for what they do.  Eventually, though, we know that when what one does becomes habit and habit forms character and character defines what we have become.

Remain open-minded to what is being said even if you do not agree.   This allows you to hear more, consider and understand their point of view better.  It helps to look for the good in what one is saying or for those things that seem reasonable.  If one disagrees try to understand how the person came to the position that they hold or what good that person sees in their position.

Verify what you understand.  Do not presume and jump to conclusions based upon your own experience.  Don’t guess without verifying.  There is a danger of transferring your emotions into their meaning.  Therefore, try to confirm what you think is being said.  It is common for your perceptions/conclusions/emotions to differ.  People respond differently to the same stimuli.  It may help to repeat what the other says if necessary.  A natural response is to try to put what they are saying into your own words.  Sometimes say exactly what is said.

Look for positive interpretation.  Everyone acts intending some good so it helps to try to see other person’s point of view and meanings

Understanding Comes Through the Sincere Gift of Self

“Man’s desire to find himself can only be fulfilled through a sincere gift of himself.”[1] John Paul II

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

John Paul II repeats the proclamation of Vatican II that “Man’s desire to find himself can only be fulfilled through a sincere gift of himself.”    It is through giving oneself sincerely to another that one comes to see oneself in that person.  When Adam said, “Bone of my bone . . ., “ it was a way of saying, “Now, I see myself.  I have an equal to whom I may give myself.”  One pours oneself into another and then sees himself or herself in that person.

Understanding involves the gift of some knowledge of our self to another and the reception of the gift of some knowledge of the beloved.  Marriage is a mutual complete giving and receiving of persons.  The family reflects this in the appropriate sharing of family members.

An understanding person recognizes the various factors that influence feelings or behavior.  He studies each of these factors and how they relate to one another (and encourages other people to do the same), and in his behavior takes these factors into account.[2]


[1] John Paul II, Letter to Families

[2] David Isaacs, Character Building, (Dublin: Four Courts Press) 1984, p 240

“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.

First

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?

Second

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?

Third

Was the person . . . ?

Quiet/ docile

 Open-minded

Sincere

Attentive

Trustworthy

Generous

Relaxed

Respectful

Tolerant

Patient

Humble

Compassionate

Kind

Self-controlled

Flexible

Courteous

Forgiving

Loving

 

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.

Talking

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.

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

COUNSELING IN VIRTUE

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

Types of Human Love

Professor Patrick J. DiVietri, Ph.D.

There are different types of love.  It is important to understand the nature of love in these different types.  Some manifest because of a stimulation in another person or thing.  These are more uncontrollable others take form because of the decision to love and to share.

Because of original sin, human or natural love tends towards the self and is conditioned upon what feels good and is more temporary subject to emotions.  Still, within this nature exists a nobility that man can love a friend or love another for their own sake and benefit.  Christian love is associated more with the intellect and will and tends to transcend self as one simply gives.  It is unconditional, permanent, directed to the good of the other.  There are four types of love: affection, passion, friendship and charity.

  Affection

Affection is that form of love expressing tenderness, fondness, warmth, regard etc.  It may take the form of terms of endearment, looks, expressions, considerations or the many things that offer reassurance and comfort such as a kiss, hug pat on the back or caress.

   Passion

Passion (The Greeks called this “Erotica) is the feeling of desire and attraction for another person in an emotional manner.  It is unstable.  When moderated it plays an important role in one’s life.  Great people or leaders are passionate and give themselves in that way and this is part of gets the job done and inspires others.  Helping children direct their passion to what is good and in a appropriate manner is a major objective for parents.  Temperance and its related virtues are a big help in this.

  Friendship

Friendship is love that is based upon mutually held values.  It is the common ground of loyalty, understanding, respect etc.  It is different for young children as it changes from a superficial form e.g. the toys the other has, to someone being fun, cool or attractive, to one based upon those qualities which stabilize adulthood, the virtues and profound values.  It is also important to remember that children cannot truly be friends with their parents until they themselves have sufficient maturity to give themselves in an equal manner of adulthood.

  Charity

Charity is the love of the will.  This is the love that thinks first of the good of the beloved.  It is the type of love that is vowed in marriage because one can choose the good for the beloved no matter what it may cost.  Affection and passion could never be vowed.  Of course, friendship may be vowed because one may promise to give virtues to another.