Listening and Muscle Memory
The ability to listen to, and remember what has been said in a conversation, are two qualities a successful clinician needs in their tool box in order to become a good therapist.
Both therapist and client have created a safe emotional bubble around themselves. Therapists do not multi-task in a session, they listen. In the therapeutic milieu the therapist listens for key words, self expression, observes for emotional content, including body language. Both tell him/her what is going on in the life of the client. Carl Rogers believed that “listening could transform people. “ An aspect of that transformation is that the one who has come to therapy may have no one else to talk to, or certainly no one else to share their deepest thoughts, and feelings with. This singularly explains the desperation of their situation. The listening ability, and non-judgment from the therapist frees the Client to go deeper. Suddenly they are pulled into a vortex of emotional expression. They are able to say things that they have never said before to anyone, and hearing themselves communicate these thoughts becomes a crucial part of the recovery process. Self-trust deepens too.
Listening is more than just looking at the individual communicating. The therapist is observing, communicating empathy, remembering what is said, and has been given the awesome privilege of being brought deeply into someone’s secret emotional space. This must not be taken for granted. It is a gift a client may give no one else.
In order to remember what the client is saying the, the therapist will restate, either word for word, or give a brief synopsis of what they heard. The client will be empowered through this process, and it adds integrity to the conversation. It is not only important in staying connected in the conversation, but it helps the clinician to develop muscle memory. Muscle memory is when we habitually remember how to do something as a result of repetition. We remember how to ride a bike, drive a car, use a computer, sail a boat. In each instance the muscle memory develops over time, and in time becomes second nature/old hat. For example, people who have not spoken a previously learned language in years, are often able to re-enter that process reasonably well, and because of muscle memory.
For the therapist, retaining what someone else has said while intensely listening, develops and grows as they listen. They develop listening skills muscle memory. It becomes second nature. Both have strongly converged, enabling a therapist to become more successful. And the Client is the beneficiary of this learned skill. Someone who is listened to, and who knows it, is on the road to emotional transformation.