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This has to be one of the most common questions I get when I meet people and they ask me what I do for a living. It is, perhaps, an entirely reasonable question, but one that overlooks what happens when you actually make an effort to listen to an individual. As a psychologist I have to make sure that I am understanding what it is my client is trying to tell me. At suitable moments I will ask permission of my client to interrupt them, and I will repeat back to them what it is I think they have told me. They will either confirm that I have got it right, or offer a clarification. In this way I make sure that I am understanding my client.

This is a very important part of therapy, to listen with intent to understand. I have to park all of my internal thought traffic (what will I have for supper, did I pay that bill etc) and actively listen. As the therapy progresses my aim is to make the client feel understood. This is crucial because clients come to therapy because they do not understand why their life has become less than they want it to be. Once they feel understood, they begin to trust that I have their best interests at heart, and once we have established trust then an honest conversation can begin, and the sometimes difficult work of therapy can begin.

And once trust has been established people will tell you the most interesting things. Everyone has their own unique story and I find this profoundly interesting. Sometimes it will be difficult to hear. I liken it a bit to reading a good novel. Each therapy session is like a chapter of a book propelling the story forward, and you are not quite sure what twists and turns lie ahead. There is often an unexpected surprise. There is often a struggle. I am often blown away by the courage clients show in addressing extremely uncomfortable issues. I always feel extremely privileged to be privy to their deepest fears and concerns.

So, no, it is not depressing listening to people tell me their problems, far from it.