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THE THERAPIST AS LISTENER
Martin Heidegger and the 
Missing Dimension of Counselling and Psychotherapy Training

Peter Wilberg
New Gnosis Publications

CONTENTS
PREFACE
BEING AND LISTENING: Philosophical Counselling as Listening Dialogue
CHARGING THE QUESTION: Questioning in the Counselling Dialogue
THE LISTENER AS MIDWIFE: An Introduction to Maieutic Listening
MAIEUTIC LISTENING
AND ANALYSIS: Towards a Fundamental Rethinking of Psychotherapy Training
THE THERAPIST AS LISTENER: A Missing Dimension
A Dialogue oN THERAPY AND PHILOSOPHY

SYNOPSIS PREFACE

SYNOPSIS
You cannot cure a single human being, not even with psychotherapy, unless you first of all restore their relation to Being." Martin Heidegger

Listening is clearly central to the practice of both counselling and psychotherapy. Given this, it is quite extraordinary how little thought has been given to the nature of therapeutic listening and to the cultivation and evaluation of the therapist as listener. Instead, listening is a subject marginalised in both the theoretical literature on psychotherapy and in the practical training of counsellors and psychotherapists - not to mention physicians and psychiatrists.

In this collection of essays and articles by Peter Wilberg, the thinking of the German philosopher Martin Heidegger provides the platform for an exploration of the deeper nature of listening as a mode of active inner communication with others - one of profound significance not only in the 'helping professions' but in inter-personal life. In professional training contexts, the willingness of the trainee therapist to listen and hear is taken for granted, and the "art" or "skill" of listening reduced to learning different ways of responding to what a client says. From the client's point of view however, healing begins with being fully heard - not with the therapist's responses. Indeed what a client says or does not say and the way in which they say it or "unsay" it is already a response - a response to the way in which the therapist is or is not listening.

Listening is no mere natural ability or technical communication skill. It is a basic dimension of what Heidegger called our human Da-sein or (t)here-being. What we are capable of hearing is determined by our capacity to be fully present and here with ourselves, and at the same time fully there and "with" the other. Listening is not just a basic mode of Da-sein. It is also midwife to the word. What Wilberg calls Maieutic Listening (from the Greek maieuesthai - "to act as a midwife") is not a new form of psychotherapy, but the embodied essence of therapeutic listening. "The Therapist as Listener" not only critically questions many of the professional modes of listening currently practiced in counselling and psychotherapy, but introduces the principle and practice of Maieutic Listening.

Maieutic listening is not the application of a set of skills or techniques but the disciplined cultivation of a basic inner bearing - that of the listener as midwife. The therapist as midwife is someone able to fully be and bear with others in pregnant silence. Their role is not merely to help others give birth to new insights about themselves but to help them give birth to a new self - their own listening self. For what use is psychotherapy, if through it, the client does not find a way to discover and embody a new inner bearing, a new way of being with and listening to themselves and others? 

PREFACE


Counselling and psychotherapy, like many other form of professional practice are based on a specific framework of practical relations between the professional and his or her clients. Similarly, training in counselling and psychotherapy, like that in other professions involving one-to-one relationships to the client, focuses on the knowledge and skills necessary to pursue a successful practical relation with the client. Herein lies a fundamental paradox however. For counselling and psychotherapy are essentially relational practices. As such, they cannot be reduced to a set of practical relations and the professional knowledge and practices that shape these relations.

Despite the lip-service paid to the importance of the ‘therapeutic relationship’, the very term obscures this distinction between a therapist’s professionalised practical relations to their clients on the one hand, and their personal relational practices, on the other.  We would be better off speaking not of some ‘thing’ called the therapeutic relationship but rather ask ourselves what constitutes therapeutic relating? A simple answer would be listening. One might think that listening – understood as a relational practice – would be the central focus of all forms of psychotherapy and counselling training (not to mention medical training). The fact that it is not is testament to a general ‘psychopathology’ of human relations to which the counselling and therapeutic ‘relationship’ can too easily falls prey. This general pathology – which affects each and every client - is the subordination of relational practices to institutionalized social and professional practices of all sorts.

The primary aim of the essays and articles collected in this book is to emphasise the intrinsically therapeutic character of listening – understood as a relational practice and not merely as the application of a body of theoretical knowledge and professional ‘skills’ to the ‘therapeutic relationship’. Above all it is the thinking of Martin Heidegger that allows us to understand listening not just as a ‘communication skill’ but as a fundamental mode of human being or Dasein - that of being with others (Mitsein). Listening as a relational practice is a practice of being with others in silence which requires the listener to be both fully ‘there’ (Da-sein) and to be fully with the other (Mit-sein). Yet being fully there and with the other requires not just the professional attention or personal empathy of the listener but their fully embodied presence as a human being. For it is only by listening with and from their whole body that the therapist can listen with and from their whole being and in this way be both fully there (Da) and ‘all ear’.  I understand listening therefore not simply as a relational practice but as a bodily relational practice – a relational activity of our whole body and whole being and not just the instrumental professional use of our ears and minds.

As for the innately therapeutic power of listening as a relational practice, I believe this lies essentially in its maieutic character (from the Greek maieuesthai – ‘to act as a midwife’). Listening – being with oneself and others in pregnant silence - is the midwife of speech. What I call ‘maieutic listening’ however, is a specific mode of not only being but bearing with others in the pregnancy of silence. Only such a therapeutic bearing can help another to not only ‘endure’ their own suffering but bear and body it - allowing it to give birth to a new inner bearing towards the world and other beings.

The chapters of this books have been compiled from independent essays or articles written over a period of ten years - during which time my own understanding and articulation of the of listening has naturally undergone its own changes and refinements. Though written at different times, from somewhat different angles and with some variation in discourse style, all the chapters argue that the phenomenology of listening is a fundamental, missing dimension of psychotherapy and counselling training. They also argue for a fundamental shift in the primary focus of psychotherapy and counselling as such - from the pathology of the client (in whatever way this is theoretically understood) to the relational practices of the therapist as listener. This in turn requires a shift in focus from specific psychological states and processes that a client may present and be aware of to an attunement (Einstimmung) on the part of the therapist or counsellor with those felt tonalities of awareness that tune and tone (bestimmen) the client’s whole way of being in the world.

Feeling tones and ‘fundamental moods’ (Grundstimmungen) are not psychic contents in themselves and yet they colour an individual’s whole way of experiencing themselves and others.  They are also the very wavelengths of attunement linking practitioner and client and as such ‘carrier waves’ of messages which communicate directly to the client. The fundamental message of this book is that listening is itself an active form of silent inner communication with others.  For the mode and manner in which we listen to another human being – above all the inwardly felt tone of our listening – is something that directly communicates, bearing back or ‘re-lating’ its own message to the other, and telling them – even before they speak – how we see them and to what extent we are open to truly hearing them. It is in this sense that listening is in itself a relational practice and therefore also an ethical practice in the deepest sense.

In stark contrast to this message is the belief – so entrenched and taken for granted that it is almost invisible - that listening is a mere prelude to some form of verbal response or therapeutic intervention on the part of the counsellor or therapist. This belief ignores the intrinsically communicative character and potentially therapeutic character of listening as such.  Instead of thinking of listening as a prelude to finding their own response to a client’s words, counsellors and therapists need to constantly remind themselves that what a client reveals to them in the counselling or therapy session, along with the manner in which they reveal it, is already and in itself a response to the inner bearing of the counsellor or therapist as listener.

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