Listening Response 3: Reflection

1. Reflection is a response to the feelings, emotions and moods of clients. While many may be able to empathise, few know how to put empathic understanding into words. Reflection is important in the helping relationship-building process because it:

  • Encourages the client to express more of his or her feelings
  • Helps client become more aware of the feelings that dominate him or her
  • Helps the client acknowledge and manage feelings
  • Helps client discriminate accurately among feelings
  • Helps client feel understood

The last point is especially important because when clients are asked what they find helpful in counselling sessions, being understood gets top ratings. There is such an unfulfilled need to be understood. (G.Egan, 2006)

The following are extracted and adapted from Essentials of Skilled Helping: Managing Problems, Developing Opportunities by Gerard Egan, 2006

2. The Basic Formula

Basic empathic understanding can be expressed in the following stylised formula:

You feel…. [here name the correct emotion expressed by the client] …..

because… [here indicate the correct thoughts, experiences, and behaviours that give rise to the feelings]…..

3. Responding Accurately to Clients’ Feelings, Emotions and Moods

3.1 Use the right family of emotions and the right intensity

Different families of emotion: E.g. “You feel hurt.”, “You feel relieved.” or “You feel enthusiastic.”

Different degrees of intensity in the same family (E.g. anger): “You feel annoyed.”, “You feel angry.” and “You’re furious.”

3.2 Distinguish between expressed and discussed feelings.

Clients express both the emotions they are feeling during the session, and talk about emotions they felt at the time of a particular incident.

Client (calmly): I don’t understand why he has to act like this all the time. What he says infuriates me but he doesn’t seem to care.

Helper: You feel angry when he condescends you and belittles your problem.

The client is not angry right now but rather, she is talking about the anger she felt at the time of a particular incident. Clients don’t always name their feelings and emotions. However, if they express emotion, it is part of the message and needs to be identified and understood.

3.3 Read and respond to feelings and emotions embedded in clients’ nonverbal behaviour

Often, helpers have to read their clients’ emotions (both the family and intensity) in their nonverbal behaviour.

Client: I don’t even know where to start (He falls silent, looks at the floor and hunches over).

Helper: I can sense that you’re feeling miserable. Can we talk about why this is so?

Client (after a pause): Well, let me tell you what happened….

The helper sees that he is depressed, and his nonverbal behaviour indicates that the feelings are quite intense. His nonverbal behaviour reveals the broad family (“You feel bad.”) and the intensity (“You feel very bad.”) But of course, the helper still does not know the experiences and behaviours that give rise to these emotions.

3.4 Be sensitive in naming emotions

Naming and discussing feelings and emotions threaten some clients. When this happens, it might be better for helpers to focus on thoughts, experiences, and behaviours and proceed only gradually to a discussion of feelings. If not, the helper will pushthe emotion issue and will be met with some resistance. The client will most probably change the topic.

3.5 Use different ways to share highlights about feelings and emotions

Since clients express feelings in a number of different ways, helpers can communicate an understanding of feelings in a variety of ways.

  • By single words: You feel good. You’re depressed. You feel abandoned.
  • By different kinds of phrases: You feel left in the lurch. You feel down in the dumps.
  • By what is implied in behavioural statements: You feel like givng up (implied emotion: despair). You feel like     hugging him (implied emotion: disgust)
  • By what is implied in experiences that are revealed: You feel you’re being dumped on (implied feeling: victimised). You feel you’re being stereotyped (implied feeling: resentment).

Ultimately, helpers must discard formulas and use our own language. Therefore, it helps to develop variety of ways to communicate our understanding of clients’ feelings and emotions. It keeps us from being wooden in our responses.

3.6 Neither overemphasise nor underemphasise feelings, emotions and moods

4. Respond Accurately to the Key Experience and Behaviours in Clients’ Stories

Respond with Highlights to Clients’ Points of View, Intentions, Proposals, and Decisions

4.1 Communicating your understanding of clients’ points of view

4.2 Communicating your understanding of intentions or proposals

4.3 Communicating your understanding of clients’ decisions

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This section was done by Nasirah Mansor


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