Have you ever had a satisfying conversation with a friend and wondered “Wow, that almost felt therapeutic”? Conversely, have you ever had a frustrating conversation with someone which ended with the thought, “I really wish they’d listen to me like my therapist does!” What about a conversation gives it a whiff of therapy? While therapy is inarguably complex and requires a heavy amount of training and practice, some of its core principles can be imbibed and practiced by just about anyone. This handy 3-point guide, recommended by a successful clinical psychologist, walks you through some of the soft skills practiced by therapists which you could use in your daily life while caring for another:

  1. Recap: Listen only to the other person while screening out your natural responses and refutations. When they have finished speaking, recap what they say. This will not only indicate that you’re paying attention to their words, but also help you organize the information that they’ve handed to you. Clarifying what they meant will help minimize any misunderstandings that could occur if you perceived their words differently than they meant it. 
  2. Ask: Instead of assuming their emotional state, ask about it. You may presume that they feel a certain way (and this presumption may be dictated by your own behavior) when in reality, they feel differently. Knowing how they feel will put you in a better position to help them process their emotions and will also help establish transparency between you both.
  3. Validate: Step into their shoes to feel what they feel, following which, acknowledge and show understanding towards their condition. Are they hurting? Let them know that you see their pain and that it is legitimate. Validation can be given even when you don’t condone someone’s actions–you can acknowledge the way they feel without approving of the thing they did. 

Take a look at an example that illustrates these 3 points: 

Statement: “I really wanted this job and really thought I could get it, but it didn’t happen. I had stellar recommendation letters, worked very hard on the application, and really believed that I was a good fit for this job. This is so embarrassing, why did this have to happen? Argh I hate this!” 

Response: “I hear that despite putting in your best efforts, things did not go as planned, and naturally, you’re upset. And I completely understand, I’d feel this way too. I get the sense that you’re really irritated as well, am I right?” 

These skills aren’t bound to a certain kind of relationship; a mother can practice these with her children, a supervisor with his employees, and a husband to his wife. Sometimes, in the absence of a therapist, following these 3 steps to provide the essence of therapy can help somebody in need of a non-judgmental, empathetic, and thoughtful listener. An important disclaimer: this is not a substitute for therapy and should not be treated as such. 

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