Listening with the Ears, Eyes and Heart

‘Listening with the Ears, Eyes and Heart’ by Clare Pointon

Article Review 

The article, ‘Listening with the Ears, Eyes and Heart’ describes the listening theory of Peter Rober, a Belgian family therapist and trainer.  Rober posits that the listening process is so complex because counsellors are often simultaneously engaged in three types of listening: listening with the ears; listening with the eyes; and, listening with the heart.  While listening with the ears is a well-known form of listening, listening with eyes and heart can go unrecognised.  Hence, the importance of listening beyond the words that are spoken can be underestimated.  This rationale made perfect sense to me as it encapsulates the importance of body language and also of what isn’t said, not just what is said. Indeed, a lot can be conveyed within silence, hence the importance of silence within the therapeutic process.  With this in mind, this article really highlighted the ‘active’ in the skill of active listening.  To truly hear what is being said uses a multitude of senses, requiring the counsellor to be fully engaged in the process.

I was particularly interested in the author’s description of Mikhail Bakhtin’s notion of the therapist’s self as a ‘dialogic self’ with a multiplicity of voices.  In this sense, listening with the ears, eyes and heart also involves listening to the self, not just the client.  There is a huge amount of listening that occurs within the therapeutic encounter as not only does the counsellor listen to the client on three different levels (i.e. ears, eyes, heart), but they also listen to themselves and their own internal dialogue.  Rober distinguishes the ‘experiencing self’ from the ‘responsible professional self’ to explain how the counsellor needs to listen to their experiencing self, but whether they share this with the client needs to be decided by the responsible professional self.  Thinking in terms of different parts of the self could be confusing, but it actually helps me to break down the listening process into a more understandable format – to help me see all of the various mechanisms at work within this complex process.  In this sense, the author has produced an article that does help bring together counselling knowledge into a format that is transferable to practice.

Interestingly, Rober refers to listening with the ears, eyes and heart as being ‘passive,’ although they seem far from passive.  He does, however, identify a fourth aspect of the listening process, which is the counsellors active focus on managing the therapeutic process, trying to facilitate a context where the client feels comfortable enough to talk, assisting the client to tell their story, and considering any interventions that might be needed.  My view differs from Rober’s in that I feel all of these factors alone and together produce active listening, albeit different types of active listening.

The ideas discussed within the article are fascinating and I would encourage others to explore these concepts.  However, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this article in particular as I felt it made the topics discussed appear more complex than they actually are.  I enjoyed the article, but as a writer myself, I did feel the author could have conveyed the key information in a more engaging and useful way.

Categories: Counselling

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2 replies

  1. Hi Nicola,
    You have explained it in an engaging way. It takes practice to look beyond the words people speak sometimes. Many people may come for therapy because, ‘their wife/partner thinks they should.’ I had a few of these, and it’s a waste of time trying to help these clients as a person has to come and see you from their own mind/heart. Freud and Jung say in their works that a client can only be helped if they have decided they need help. In fact, admitting to themself that they need help is half way to solving the problem. Great post.

  2. @susanjanejones—while I agree that some people do come to therapy b/c they’ve been ‘pushed’, I often find that those clients indeed have some inner curiosity about the reasons for accepting the ‘push’. And it’s here that embodied, or Wholebody Listening can assist—both the therapist as well as the client. When a therapist “listens” from her/his own grounded presence then something new can become possible for the client. One of my colleagues talks about the difference between listening with her “regular ears” vs listening from her Wholebody—a quality and experience of “listening” that engages her senses more deeply, bringing space and life to the not-yet-said as well as offering the peace of silence to allow the client to sit with, be present to, what is not yet ready to be spoken.

    Thank you Nicola. And thanks to the Greek Focusing Organization for sharing this article.

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