Here’s a fair summary of therapy: Your job, as client, is to tell the truth as best you can. My job, as therapist, is to resist being a critical jerk about what I hear. Together we’ll figure out solutions to your problems. Unfortunately, it’s easy to be a critical jerk because it’s the unfortunate natural response to the fear of losing control and the anger that goes along with unactualized personal preferences (which somehow feel like universal truths in the moment). In short: we like what we like and we like not feeling unsafe.
Therapists are trained for years in how to define problems, how to spot them, and how to sort them out. Yet, after all that training, the gamble therapists need to take is to set that knowledge aside and just listen. This gives people the space to formulate a clear perspective of themselves and clarity in what’s going on that they naturally stumble upon the amazing solutions learned in therapy school. At the very least, the therapist tweaks the plan. At most, new suggestions based on all that listening are offered.
Listening isn’t easy. The first thing you learn, as a therapist, is you’ve been going about your business truly not listening your entire life. Sure, there’re pockets here and there of it, but by and large it’s an anomaly. Poets refer to those rare moments as “true love” and “connection.” Listening carries the high price of both deeply caring for another and being vulnerable enough to resist controlling the situation.
The listening gamble is a type compromise. Usually we listen to others to solve problems, play with their ideas, or show how smart we are. We’re waiting for the other person to “finish”. The compromise is to keep all those thoughts but with two caveats: 1) Reject the desire for the other person to finish. Instead, be genuinely curious. 2) Only attempt sharing anything until after the person has finished and only offer those thoughts when you see the other person wants to hear it. Like I said, giving up control and being vulnerable… professionally.
Rabbi Yonasan Bender, LCSW, graduated from Hebrew University’s School of Social Work. He works with adults, couples, and children in his private therapy practice in Jerusalem. He holds several semichos from Rav Yitzchok Berkovits, shlita. To share your thoughts, experiences, questions, or a different perspective, you can reach Rabbi Yonasan Bender LCSW at 053-808-0435 and at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more about Rabbi Bender and his work at www.jerusalemtherapy.org.