To listen and communicate non-judgmentally is one of the five basic steps in mental health first aid. It is a term you will find used throughout the website.
This website cannot train you to be a counsellor or a therapist, but you can develop some basic listening skills that will be useful in many situations.
Are You Really Listening?
Most of the time we do not really listen to what others are saying. This is not because we are being rude or uncaring. Usually when we are in conversation with someone else, we find ourselves going off on other trains of thought because something that has been said has reminded us of other things. Other times we are thinking about our reply and only giving the speaker part of our attention.
When we are listening to the other person, part of our mind is thinking about our own reactions to what they are saying. This is a normal response, and in everyday situations it usually works well.
In a situation where a person is distressed or having a mental health crisis, it is very important to pay more attention and put non-judgemental listening skills into practice.
Being An Effective Listener
While you are paying attention to the feelings of the other person, it is important to be aware of your own feelings and thoughts.
Attending to a person who may be distressed may bring up a number of responses, such as fear, irritation, sadness, or a sense of being overwhelmed.
These are normal responses to a difficult situation. However, it is important that the listener continues to be open to listening respectfully, and attempts to avoid reacting to what is being shared.
That means focusing on the distressed person, and understanding how it feels to be in their place.
This may be difficult, depending on the relationship between the listener and the distressed person. Sometimes it is especially difficult if the person is a close friend or relative. If you feel that your relationship is preventing you from being an effective listener, it may be best to get the help of someone else who is not so close to the person. However, in a crisis you may not have this option.
Remember that during a crisis, you are offering the distressed person a place of safety based on respect. acceptance, and understanding – and you may be saving their life.
After the conversation, you may feel unsettled, shocked, confused, or angry. You may wish to share this with someone, to acknowledge your own experience. In doing so, you should maintain the person’s privacy by withholding their name or any details that could identify them. This is not the same as accessing appropriate assistance for the person if they need it (e.g. if they are suicidal) when you will need to reveal their identity.
Always remember that you are human, and that feeling a mixture of emotions is a normal human response.