The links below will take you to information that you can download, hopefully you will something of help (or interest). Please do let me know if there is anything else in particular that you are looking for.

Empathic listening

“When the other person is hurting, confused, troubled, anxious, alienated, terrified; or when he or she is doubtful of self-worth, uncertain as to identify, then understanding is called for.

The gentle and sensitive companionship of an empathic stance… provides illumination and healing. In such situations deep understanding is, I believe, the most precious gift one can give to another”.

Carl Rogers     

Gifting your time to listen to others can help them let off steam, feel valued and resolve personal issues or challenges. Empathic listening also benefits the listener, be they parent, teacher, employer, group leader, friend or someone who is shy and has problems engaging with others. In learning how to listen empathically, we can gain a deeper understanding of both others and ourselves.

Part of both counselling and psychotherapy, a simpler version can be useful in everyday life. It is not a rigid technique, but rather a way of being that puts our perceptions to one side as we engage with the other as a fellow traveller, as an equal. We do not take the role of a rescuer, mentor, guide, instructor or inspector and do not offer solutions, tell them what they are doing wrong, pass judgment or counter with our challenges. 

Empathic listening involves listening attentively and with sincere interest to another, focusing on them, rather than ourselves and listening to understand their world rather than to frame our next response in a conversation. Our responses must be genuine rather than mechanical or formulaic, with natural rather than forced or insincere physical and verbal confirmations showing that we are paying attention. Reflections and questions are made to help the other clarify their thoughts and feelings, to lead them in a direction that we feel is right for them. Rather like the sweepers at a curling match who clear obstacles out of the path of the stone, the aim is to help an idea follow its natural course rather than deflect or influence the direction. 

Talking about issues and challenges is different from thinking about them and trying to explain matters to someone else shares the load, and can also lead to greater clarity. One of the most useful parts of a conversation can be in holding a silence – not rushing to fill the space places more pressure on the other to keep talking and sharing, or leaves them time to think and reflect as they wish. They are in control; we wait for them to speak and then follow their lead.

In brief, we aim to:

Start with a respectful and non-judgemental attitude

Listen attentively to what the other is saying

Ask questions only to clarify what we are not sure about

Respond with our understanding of what they said, paraphrasing rather than parroting back their words

Allow the other time to absorb and consider what we have said.

I've written a more detailed guide, and will continue to add to and edit it over time

The two handouts below approach empathic listening from different directions, reading them both may give a clearer picture of the role through these alternative perspectives:

Looking for your perfect job?

The perfect job is one which manages to meet several different criteria, described by the Japanese as 'Ikigai'. The diagram below may help you find your ideal occupation 

If not, then it may help you on the path to finding it in the future - either by developing your own skills, or by being aware of how changing circumstances bring new opportunities as well as challenges.

Feeling broken?

There is a Japanese technique known as Kintsugi, or Kintsukuroi, used to repair broken pottery using gold or silver lacquer. Repairs are shown openly, not disguised or hidden in some way and accepted as integral to the history of a piece which has become robust and functional again, with the repairs giving it a unique beauty.

Imagine two antique writing desks in a shop. The first is in pristine condition having remained in a packing crate from new. The second has a hole in one side, burn marks on the other and ink stains on the top - which is worth more?

What if all the damage to the second has been caused through historical events? A wayward musket ball in a siege or battle, or an assassin's bullet, the fire at Windsor Castle, and wear and tear courtesy of a famous writer have all left their mark. Having a patina and a provenance can make something more interesting, valuable and attractive than if it had no history.

We can all get emotional knocks, breaks and bruises over time, yet can accept physical and mental scars as part of our history, wounds incurred as a consequence of living. Once healed, they may still leave a mark, but not one to be ashamed of, or which prevents us from moving forward as a whole person. By surviving, we have, as Nietzsche said, become stronger – and can take pride in our survival. 

Have you been bereaved?

My first placement as a trainee therapist was in a hospice, working with bereaved relatives. I was the only 'newbie', with four very experienced colleagues guiding my first baby steps in the profession. One of the first things I learned was that the structured models of grief that I had been taught during a psych degree, with different stages to be passed through, was not supported by those working at the hospice.

Rather, bereavement was seen as very personal experience with no set time periods and different paths. They all preferred the whirlpool, or waterfall concept as per the link below.

I also learned two experiences from clients that may be true for others. The first discovered that the pain of losing a loved one always feels as sharp, but over time it happens less often, and for shorter durations. The second described grief in terms of cutting through a bundle of electrical wires which represent different shared memories and experiences. When touched, each can give you a shock - they have to be dealt with one at a time, and all remain 'live' until dealt with - just waiting to give you a jolt at full force.

Pastoral care links

While studying for a qualification in pastoral care, I wanted to find some examples of how the general public is likely to experience the pastoral, spiritual and religious care available - academic resources can only tell us so much. Limited by time and finances, I couldn't visit all the different hospitals in person, but other options are available in the age of the internet and social media.

With the help of Humanists UK, I was able to identify over 350 potential hospital websites online. Setting up a matrix to grade five areas of possible integration (and stocking up on coffee), I checked each potential site using web searches.

Apart from noticing how much they varied in the amount of information given, I was struck by how much they were faith-centric, particularly from a Christian perspective. Later on, with assistance from the Non-Religious Pastoral Support Network, I produced a guide that chaplaincy departments could use to check their web pages:

'NHS England Hospital Websites and Literature; A review of integration of all different faiths and beliefs'

If you fancy wading through the final dissertation, it is available from the link below. Please be gentle with me, though, it all got rather hurried towards the end, and I've picked up quite a few areas I'd like to re-do when time permits.

‘A literature review regarding the integration of different faiths and beliefs within NHS hospital chaplaincy’