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Reflective listening is a communication strategy involving two key steps: seeking to understand a speaker's idea, then offering the idea back to the speaker, to confirm the idea has been understood correctly. It attempts to "reconstruct what the client is thinking and feeling and to relay this understanding back to the client". Reflective listening is a more specific strategy than the more general methods of active listening. It arose from Carl Rogers' school of client-centered therapy in counseling theory. Empathy is at the center of Rogers' approach.
Dalmar Fisher, an associate professor at Boston College, developed a model for Reflective Listening that includes the following elements:
- Focusing upon the conversation by reducing or eliminating any kind of distraction.
- Genuinely embracing the speaker's perspective without necessarily agreeing with it. By engaging in a non-judgmental and empathetic approach, listeners encourage the others to speak freely.
- Mirroring the mood of the speaker, reflecting the emotional state with words and nonverbal communication. This requires the listener to quiet his mind and focus fully upon the mood of the speaker. This mood will become apparent not just in the words used but in the tone of voice, posture and other nonverbal cues given by the speaker. The listener will look for congruence between words and mood.
- Summarizing what the speaker said, using the speaker's own words rather than merely paraphrasing words and phrases, thereby mirroring the essential concept of the speaker.
- Responding to the speaker's specific point, without digressing to other subjects.
- Repeating the procedure for each subject, and switching the roles of speaker and listener, if necessary.
- During the reflective listening approach, both client and therapist embrace the technique of thoughtful silence, rather than to engage in idle chatter.
Reflective listening has been found to be effective in a therapeutic setting. Subjects receiving reflective listening from a counselor have reported better therapeutic relationship and more disclosure of feelings.
Cognitive content is one of the two main options that a counselor has for reflecting the client's previous communication in the counseling session. This form deals with people, places, problems, situations, and things. Cognitive content can play a role in help with problem solving. Incorporating cognitive content in problem solving makes it easier for clients to identify and work through issues. If neither the counselor nor the client can identify a problem that the client has, there is no need to problem solve and there is no need for counseling. Similar to problem solving where one initially identifies the quandary, counseling calls for identification of the fundamental issue in order to successfully change the client's behaviors or thought patterns.
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- Reflective Listening — One-page summary used by National Health Care for the Homeless Council (currently under construction as of January 12, 2013)