"Slowly I have come to see that asking and listening and accepting are a profound form of doing" ~Dr. Vincent J Felitti, MD
One of the most important gifts you can give to your family, friends, and coworkers costs nothing and requires no specialized training. But it can make an enormous impact–even save a life. That is the gift of listening.
Listen to a Veteran, a not-for-profit organization that pairs nonveterans with veterans for “listening sessions,” has witnessed the importance of lending an ear: “A Vietnam War veteran who had long been suicidal stopped thinking of suicide and focused on the future after just one of our sessions,” the organization shares on its site. This was not the work of a therapist but an everyday “regular Joe” who volunteered to listen to someone who had felt isolated and misunderstood for decades.
Why Is Listening So Important?
“Listening is much more than allowing another to talk while waiting for a chance to respond,” explains the writer Henri Nouwen. “The beauty of listening is that, those who are listened to start feeling accepted, start taking their words more seriously and discovering their own true selves.”
Listen to a Veteran harnesses the healing power of listening for those who have been wounded by trauma. Listening to someone’s story with respect, not judgment, is key to reaffirming their value and identity. It’s an integral piece of “trauma-informed care,” which focuses on a person’s life experience before attempting to correct their behavior, whether that person is a veteran, a neglected child, or someone who struggles with addiction.
In an interview with a woman who suffered from PTSD after a decade of childhood sexual abuse, Oprah Winfrey put it like this: “ It comes down to the question of not, ‘What's wrong with you? What's wrong with that kid? Why is he behaving like that,’ to, ‘What happened to you,’ which is a very different question.”
How to Listen
You likely know someone who has experienced some level of trauma, but listening is powerful and healing for everyone, not just those who appear to be struggling. In a fast-paced, high-pressure world that often values productivity over connection and self-awareness, it can be easy to only half-listen while marking items off your to-do list and keeping your eyes on a screen. But taking even a few minutes to truly listen can make a strong impact on a person’s self-worth.
Listen to a Vet provides a number of guidelines for their volunteers, some of which have been listed or modified here. These guidelines can be applied to any listening situation, whether with a family member, friend, or coworker.
- Focus on listening. Remove all other distractions (especially screens).
- Maintain eye contact and open body language to show your attention and interest.
- Reflect on what you’ve heard by paraphrasing or asking clarifying questions. Keep these interludes brief, focusing mainly on your friend.
- Do not judge or challenge.
- Do not jump to giving advice.
- Trust the power of silence.
- Trust the power of your genuine respect and compassion to come through.
To learn more about communication tactics or to receive training for your organization, talk to the Ashland County Mental Health and Recovery Board. We’re here to equip our community members with the tools they need to connect with each other and live healthier lives.