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What is Therapeutic Listening?

Listening is a social validation process that involves all the senses. Therapeutic listening is a skill that all nurses, particularly psychiatric nurses must have to be effective. Listening has been listed as the most effective therapeutic technique available. The therapist empathizes and pays attention to the patient’s verbal and nonverbal messages to promote the understanding and interpretation of the individual’s situation.

Therapeutic Listening Examples

  • Maintaining eye contact
  • A helpful attitude
  • Keeping a conversational distance
  • Responding with facial expressions
  • Touch
  • Gestures
  • Encouraging words
  • Asking relevant questions
  • Summarizing key points
  • Using words spoken by the patient

Words Matter: How To Listen To Someone Who is Sharing Their Mental Health Story

Every one of us goes through tough times occasionally and other people help us through them. And at other times, we worry about someone else’s mental health. Whether they are a friend, family member, or coworker, there are ways to support somebody you care about.

Practice Active Listening

Active listening is listening and responding to another person to improve mutual understanding. Use these tips to practice active listening:

6 Tips For Listening To Someone Who Has A Mental Health Illness

Listening is HelpingPractice reflective (also called active) listening

  • Listen with the goal of understanding.
  • Reflect on what they said and ask whether you understand them accurately.
  • Ask questions to improve your understanding of their experiences and point of view.
  • Express empathy for what they are feeling.

Focus your attention on understanding them and put all your other agenda items aside. Although you want to help your loved one, you will be more effective if you put off any suggestions until they feel heard and understood and asks for your opinion.

Even if you disagree with their interpretations of reality, try to understand their experiences, points of view, hopes, fears, and beliefs about themselves and their situation. Your goal is to understand their reality from their point of view even if they are psychotic (out of touch with reality).

Avoid reactive listening. Listen to understand instead of thinking about how you can argue back or convince them to change their mind. Avoid interrupting, criticizing, or giving advice. Even if they criticize you, let it go. Realize that criticism and blame usually come from the illness and typically have little to do with you.

Keep in mind that a mentally ill person may have anosognosia (the inability to perceive the mental illness) or delusions (beliefs that don’t change in response to evidence to the contrary).  Arguing about what is real won’t be helpful.

You might need to set limits on when, where, and how long you can listen. Try to pick a time and place when your loved one wants to talk and you will be able to focus your attention on listening well. When you can’t listen well anymore, you can say, “I’m sorry. I know you probably have more to say but I need a break now.” Setting a limit like this helps make it safe for you and them and will help you stay calm as you listen.

Responses You Can Use During Therapeutic Listening:

You can say:

  • Let’s see if I have this right. Are you saying that…?
  • I hear you saying…….Did I get that right?  or Can you tell me more about that?
  • If I heard you correctly, you said that…. Is that right? or I can understand why you feel/want…or How do you feel about that?

You can also use nonverbal responses (nodding or shaking your head). In addition, you will have to figure out which responses work best in certain situations. As an example, sometimes your loved one may want eye contact and other times eye contact may make them feel uncomfortable.

Why is Active Listening So Important?

On any ordinary day, a person speaks between 7,000 to 20,000 words. Clearly, we are saying a lot between texting, tweeting, DMs, IMs, video calls, and chats. But how many of us honestly say things that we really feel and how often do we listen to what someone is saying? We have the technology to talk to anyone, anywhere but the art of communicating is dying.

Mental Health And Loneliness

Many mental health problems such as depressionanxiety, thrive on loneliness and it’s a vicious cycle. Human closeness is important for our wellbeing and the lack of it can make things worse for an individual with mental health issues. The lack of emotional support can cause mental health issues to magnify and in turn, that makes it harder to speak and to share feelings.

Mental Health And Loneliness


For people dealing with a mental health concern, it is difficult to open up and be able to talk to someone about it. Besides the fear of being judged by friends, family, or coworkers, there is the overall social stigma around mental health. Also, people often hesitate to talk about it simply because they think that no one will listen or that no one cares.

Listening is Helping

When it comes to mental health, listening is helping.  Learning to listen to what someone is saying can help you recognize signs of early onset of mental health concerns. Plus it can make a huge difference in how someone feels.

Verbal Cues

Occasionally, you can pick up on cues about potential mental health problems while actively listening to someone talk about their thoughts and feelings. An example would be a person who is constantly worried or overreacting to daily stressors. This could be a sign of anxiety issues.  

People who are overly critical of themselves or have sleep issues (too much or too little) might be at risk for depression. An extreme change in appetite should be seen as a red flag when combined with other signs like sleep issues and anxiety.

Mood Swings

While you listen, keep your ears open for instances that might point to: 

  • rapid shifts in moods, 
  • drops in productivity without reason, 
  • lack of interest in social activities, or 
  • a feeling of being disconnected from others

These are just clues but they could point out less than ideal mental health. Always encourage them to get help from a mental healthcare professional.

Making A Difference

By being an active listener who is sensitive to the mental health needs of friends, coworkers, and loved ones, you are taking a step towards creating mind-positive communities. Hopefully, the stigma and loneliness that is felt by people with mental health problems will be eventually be ended. Instead, we may be able to look out for each other and help the healing process.

Benefits of Being An Active Listener

Being an active listener can be a benefit to you in all areas of your life. Here are some benefits:

  • It helps you build connections: Active listening helps others feel comfortable sharing information with you.
  • It helps you build trust: People are more likely to confide in you when they know they can speak freely with you without judgment and interruptions.
  • It helps you identify and solve problems: Actively listening to others can help you find challenges and difficulties others are facing. The sooner you spot issues, the quicker you can address them.
  • It helps you increase your knowledge and understanding of various topics: Because active listening helps you remember information, it will help you understand new topics and remember what you’ve learned for the future.
  • It helps you avoid leaving out important information: Since active listeners are very engaged with the speaker, they’re able to recall specific details. This is important if you’re learning something new or responsible for passing information to others.

Empathy And Mental Illness

Active or reflective listening is important to improve understanding. But, in situations when someone is experiencing symptoms of a mental health crisis, there is another kind of listening that can be more effective–empathetic listening. When a person is experiencing a mental health problem, having an empathetic listener can be calming, reassuring, and even healing.

Empathy does not mean that we agree with the other person or see things from the same point of view. But it does require that we take a moment to step outside our normal ways of thinking and feeling to imagine what it feels like to be that other person. The Mental Health First Aid USA manual states “Most people experiencing distressing emotions and thoughts want an empathetic listener before being offered helpful options.” Here are some ways to show empathy if you encounter a person who may be experiencing a mental health crisis:

Empathy And Mental Illness

Practicing Empathy

  • Focus on showing empathy and not on changing the person or their outlook.
  • Slow down. Distress frequently speeds up our speech and gestures. Give the other person enough time to express themselves.
  • Use a relaxed body posture. Be close enough to the person to show you care but don’t touch the person without asking first.

A person’s distress increases when they feel isolated. By showing empathy you can help them calm down. Although you might be concerned about making them uncomfortable, remember that many people going through mental health symptoms want someone to notice them and offer support.

Begin Professional Mental Health Help at Montare Behavioral Health

Do you have a friend, coworker, or loved one who seems isolated, lonely, and wants to open up but just can’t? Have you tried talking to them, but didn’t know how? Try some active, empathetic listening. You may find that they are having a mental health crisis and need professional help.

Montare Behavioral Health can provide comprehensive mental health treatment including evidence-based behavioral therapies and holistic therapies such as therapeutic listening to address the wellbeing of the whole person. Our mental health professionals are experienced in treating many mental health conditions compassionately, empathetically, and successfully. Help someone today. Contact Montare Behavioral now.