Sunday, June 23, 2013

Things people want

As a psychotherapist, I have the unique privilege of witnessing all sorts of human behavior.  While every person is different and no single approach works for everyone I don't necessarally reinvent the wheel every time I encounter a new patient.  One of the reasons therapists tend to become better with experience is because when they meet a new patient they can eventually say to themselves, "I've had a patient with this type of problem before.  I remember what worked (and what didn't work) for him.  Maybe I'll try a similar strategy with this patient."  The longer you've been practicing the more likely you are to have seen even relatively rare variations of a given problem before.  (An unintended side effect: A lot of things seem "normal" to me that would probably seem strange to other people). 

Something else a therapist learns with experience is that even people who are completely different from one another posess common needs and desires.  For example, I've never met anyone, either personally or professionally, who did not have the desire to be understood.  This is something that probably evolved in concert with our capacity for speech and language.  On the most basic level, we want others to comprehend the meaning of what we communicate verbally.  After all, what good is the ability to speak if no one  understands what you're saying?  The significance of human language lies in its utility as a tool for creating common meaning among two or more distinct entities. 

We desire basic comprehension and yet this is not enough,.  We want others to understand us on a deeper level; we want them to really get what we're saying.  One of the most fundamental communication skills is something called reflection.  Reflection involves listening to another person and repeating his message back to him, either exactly as you heard it or in paraphrase or summary.  It sounds simple but it's more difficult than you might think.  So many of us have a habit of hearing a person's words without really listening to what they are saying.  I'll give you an example of a couple I once saw for marriage counseling.  I asked the wife to use an "I statement" to express her feelings to her husband.  The husband was asked to listen and repeat what he heard his wife say.  She started: "I feel frustrated and disappointed when you promise to do something and then do not do it."  Then it was his turn.  "I heard, "nag nag nag nag nag,'" he said.  My jaw dropped in surprise.  The wife started crying.

In sum, there is something profoundly affirming about being understood by another person.  Perhaps it helps us to feel less alone.

I'll share more observations about things people want later...


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  2. Thanks for this post. You say:
    "After all, what good is the ability to speak if no one understands what you're saying?"
    I am beginning to think that I must quit all speech with my speech disability….because even with the most acute listener, they never get the tone of what I am saying and then less understanding of the feeling which in turn means it registers as not important. I am thinking by doing this I will have to set my life up for no speech, too…which at times seems daunting, but in the end would result in far less frustration, and more blossoming of wisdom.


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