Listening: a superpower

In my first article, ‘The Creative Non-Directive Approach (CNDA) and Self-love’, I discussed the importance of love and acceptance in the therapeutic approach of a TRA (relationship therapist) trained in Colette Portelance’s non-directive creative approach. This is the second article in a series based on my advanced graduate studies research work, ‘The Quest for Self-worth’. I conducted clinical research and examined this topic for three years.

As a TRA (relationship therapist) certified at the Centre de Relation d’aide Montréal, I have developed specific skills to help people with devaluation issues. This article focuses on the therapeutic process of helping a client find their worth by truly listening to them. The therapist’s ability to listen to their inner self and listen to the client is an essential skill; listening provides guidance and a point of reference to the client on their journey towards fulfilling their basic needs.

Carl Rogers, an American humanist psychologist and founder of non-directive psychotherapy, wrote on the subject of listening:

“There can be no true listening without empathy and congruence “1

Colette Portelance, author of ‘The Creative Non-Directive Approach’ also wrote on the subject of therapeutic listening:

“In relationship therapy (…), listening with complete acceptance postulates that the caregiver has acquired the attributes of congruence and empathy which are so dear to Carl Rogers…Congruence is the ability to listen to our emotions and express how we are feeling, as well as the ability to accept our true selves and to be our true selves…To be empathetic, we must know ourselves well enough and listen to ourselves well enough so that we do not project on others what belongs to us. The empathic therapist is able to listen to “others” as they are, in what they are experiencing and doing and to accept their uniqueness. It is this ability to see the other as they truly are that helps the person blossom.”1

Regarding listening and people suffering from devaluation, she says :

“I cannot stress enough the importance of listening to help people with internal devaluation injuries and lack of self-esteem. When they feel heard, a deep sense of feeling important to the other person arises, of being recognized and understood, and most of all, of feeling that they exist.”2

Here is an example from my clinical experience. For confidentiality, I will refer to my client as Henri. Henri was experiencing tremendous difficulty in his relationship with his girlfriend. He often felt inadequate. Over time during our sessions, Henri became increasingly more confident and felt more at ease to be himself with me. During one session, he shared how difficult it was to hear his girlfriend talk about a past relationship with another man. While discussing this, Henri experienced immense anger in the form of fantasies of violence and revenge. I was very touched by the intensity of his reaction and said, “I am deeply moved by the intensity of what you are experiencing.” Receiving acceptance and non-judgment in his anger, Henri was able to give himself permission to feel hatred. My empathy and non-judgement towards Henri’s intensity allowed me to simply listen to him and give him space to exist, which in turn allowed him to examine his suffering. In tears he said, “I’m afraid of being nothing, of not being important to her.” Understanding the significance of what he said, I reflected: “You are afraid.” Henri felt validated and heard in this approach. He was able to acknowledge and accept the fear he was experiencing and to express it. Henri was not accustomed to being vulnerable, but in the presence of someone who acknowledged his anger and fear, he felt, in that very moment, that he truly existed to someone.

The self-awareness he had developed and acknowledgment of what he was experiencing granted him a deeper understanding of his past. His rage, hatred and fantasies of violence stemmed from a devaluation injury. Henri, hence, had taken the first step towards a major change in the way he saw himself, how he was in his relationship with his girlfriend and in acknowledging his vulnerability. It took time and self-acceptance to achieve this. I observed Henri’s growth both in his identity and his relationships, which affirms the therapeutic importance of listening.

This anecdote demonstrates how listening is essential to helping people, who suffer from low self-esteem, accurately see themselves and know their self-worth. I invite you now to take an introspective look. Is there a situation in your life which is difficult to accept? Whether it is with a colleague, a relative, a friend, or a particular circumstance, do you have difficulty hearing the message from your body or your heart which is causing conflict? If you are experiencing this, please know that a relationship therapist is specialized in listening. I am available to listen to your difficulties and accompany you on your journey to experience more happiness, harmony and peace.

My next article will discuss another attribute essential to anyone wishing to work with people who have been devalued; to help them acknowledge their strengths and skills.

  1. PORTELANCE, Colette, Relation d’aide et amour de soi, Éditions du CRAM, page 143.
  2. PORTELANCE, Colette, L’acceptation et le lâcher-prise, Éditions du CRAM, page 168.

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