Listening Skills

textbook on listening skills:

Expanding Emotional Vocabulary

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Sad/unhappy, mad/angry, scared/fear is also the center of much of the work we do in counseling and therapy. Sadness can lead to depression, which leads to a cycle of inaction. Although anger sometimes motivates people toward positive ends and against oppression, all too often it leads to impulsive behavior that is destructive of self and others. Anger appears in spousal abuse, those who bully, oppositional defiant children and teens, and sociopathic behavior. Fear is related to anxiety, phobias, and an avoidant personality style. Clearly, if we are to work to improve executive functioning and cognitive competence,

we must deal effectively with these challenging emotions constantly, but this is best done from a base of positives and strengths. As Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman (2011) notes, quoting a classic paper titled “Bad Is Stronger Than Good” (Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Finkenauer, & Vohs, 2001, p. 323):

Bad emotions, bad parents, and bad feedback have more impact than good ones, and bad information is processed more thoroughly than good. The self is more motivated to avoid bad self-definitions than to pursue good ones. Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones.

When we experience a significant loss of a loved one, the emotion of sadness needs to be worked through rather than denied. While anger management will be one of your important counseling and therapy skill sets, there are times when anger is appropriate and a motivator for action. Injustice, unfairness, bullying, and harassment are four situations in which client anger is suitable. For some clients, enabling them to recognize underlying emotional anger will be a breakthrough, enabling cognitive change.

The so-called “negative” emotions of sad/mad/fear are primarily located in the limbic system. But calling them negative is not fully accurate. Fear in the face of danger is protective.

Chapter 7

Reflecting Feelings 157

Copyright 2018 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. WCN 02-200-203

158 Section II

The Basic Listening Sequence

For example, you see a car coming toward you, and you don’t have time to think. Protective fear enables you to short-circuit the time it takes to think and swerve to save your life. When we duck at a baseball coming toward our head, protective fear is there again. When
a woman fears abuse, it can serve as a motivator to find safety. As mentioned earlier, anger often leads us to action. Emotional regulation of anger leads to impulse control and less acting out. Combined with the strengths of the prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex, anger is often useful in motivating us to combat unfairness, bullying, and other forms of oppression, but in a playful manner.

Disgust is an interesting addition to the original four primary emotions. It is thought to have evolved as a way to ensure avoidance of unhealthy objects, particularly when we recognize a “disgusting” odor. We say that “it stinks” or a certain person is “rotten” and a “rat.” Disgust evokes dimensions of anger but overlaps with fear as well. If you are counseling a couple thinking of separation or divorce, you likely will see anger. However, if the word “anger” turns to “disgust,” saving the relationship is a larger challenge.

Two examples related to surprise shock and wonder, one often negative, the other usually positive. When you counsel clients and hear them accurately, their surprise at being heard opens the way to change. Confrontation is a basic skill presented in Section IV that can lead to change. The surprise behind confronting clients with mixed messages and unseen conflicts in their lives can be an important moment. A good reframe/interpretation also produces surprises. An interesting nonverbal measure of the accuracy of your intervention is the recognition response. You will see some clients look down briefly, sometimes with an embarrassed look. You likely have reminded them of something they know is right.

Limbic Brain Structures Central in Affective Empathy

It is time to visit and review Appendix IV, which presents a simplified picture of key brain structures. There you will see the limbic system located and discussed. The following serves as a basic outline of what you can view there. Note the key brain structures that you are reaching in reflecting feeling.

1. Amygdala: Our emotional (and cognitive) driver, taking information from the senses and passing it on. The thalamus, of course, is a key factor in distributing observations, thoughts, and experiences. The amygdala is closely related to the total limbic system and has close connections with the prefrontal cortex.

2. Prefrontal cortex (PFC): With very close connections to the amygdala, the PFC labels emotions as feelings and, when possible, regulates action. In times of emergency, the amygdala emotional foundation will override the PFC, and emotional regulation breaks down. Those with impulse control issues are often ruled by regions associated with the amygdala, and the PFC follows—in effect, actions are now regulated by the emotions, a failure of emotional regulation.

3. Hippocampus: Our memory center that holds and distributes information throughout the brain. Both cognitive and emotional decisions are related to short- and long-term memory.

4. Hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands (HPA): Important for understanding the physical role of emotion, they produce the hormones for our brain and body. The hypothalamus controls the release of hormones as stimulated by the amygdala, while the pituitary stimulates the adrenals at the top of the kidney. In turn, the adrenals produce cortisol, which is a balanced amount is essential for learning. But with stress and trauma, too much cortisol is delivered with harm to both brain and body.

Copyright 2018 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. WCN 02-200-203

All these and other structures are activated when you reflect feelings. As the limbic system received information from the senses first, it operates ahead of the structures in the prefrontal cortex, which seeks to regulate emotions. Thus, many of our decisions are made before we are cognitively aware of what we are about to decide. After reading chapter 7, I’d like you to think about something that resonated with you or something you felt is most important. Allow yourself time to really think through this key idea or concept. What stands out for you is likely important as a guide toward your next steps of understanding.

Then locate a short you tube video (it doesn’t have to be from youtube necessarily) that highlights this concept or skill. The video can be anywhere from 3-15 minutes or so. Try your best to ensure the video is a reputable one. Write a full page (double spaced) essay explaining why this skill set or concept is important in the therapy session; why you chose the topic and what the video covers. At the bottom of your assignment enclose the link to the video.

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