Today we explored personal blocks to listening, which are external or internal factors that interfere with a counsellor’s ability to be present in the room and utilise active listening.

One internal block to listening that I feel could be pertinent to me, especially at this early stage of my counselling journey, is me wanting to give advice. So often in roleplays I want to advise a client or suggest a course of action, which I know is not appropriate. This is dangerous for the counsellor in that they could be held responsible for any advice that doesn’t go smoothly. It is also dangerous for a client because it could set a deadly precedent – the client could become dependent on the counsellors advice.

Another internal block to listening that I think may affect me is my mind wandering. I do tend to spend a lot of time in my head – a problem I am working on by meditating regularly and practising mindfulness. Being present in the moment, being 100% aware of what is happening in the room and focusing on the client is paramount. A counsellor that is not fully present is not providing a client with a safe environment that is conducive to sharing. A client on the receiving end of a counsellor that is too busy wondering what they should have for lunch would probably not have much faith in their abilities, and would probably not feel confident opening up.

I can imagine that it being a really warm day being an external block to listening. If the counsellor would rather be at the beach I don’t think many productive open questions would be asked. And getting to the root of a deeply painful issue would be very difficult if the client had just been to the beach and was being distracted by thoughts of further sunshine.

I feel that another external block to listening would be not gelling with the client. If the client had an accent that the counsellor couldn’t comprehend, that would clearly cause communication problems. Likewise, if the client did not feel comfortable opening up to a particular counsellor, the counsellor’s thoughts could drift, the conversation would stall, and ultimately lead to nowhere.

In expanding on some of these factors and thinking about how they affect not only the counsellor and the client, but also their relationship, I feel I have gained some insight and understanding into the potential difficulty of active listening.

Today we also talked about Self-awareness, especially in relation to aspects of our “self” which contribute to our patterns of thought and behaviour. In small groups we explored how our early years were incredibly formative – whether or not we consciously realised they were at the time. As an example, when I was young, my father always expected a certain quiet ambience in our house, and it was his demeanour rather than his words that enforced this. As such, I am a quiet person, and while I have recently started voicing my opinion more, I don’t really like talking about myself or being the centre of attention.

I also feel that an aspect of people-pleasing has seeped into my personality from this environment I grew up in, with behaviours like agreeing with someone to keep the peace, or placating them by being passive and docile. Mind-reading is another behaviour that is linked to my past. As it was my father’s demeanour that suggested to me what kind of mood he was in rather than him just outright saying that he wanted quiet or was feeling happy, I felt I had to guess how he felt rather than asking and then being told an answer. He did not like being asked.

I also found it interesting that once we become parents we can either carry on the values and boundaries that our parents once held for us or do the exact opposite. I am teaching my son that rather than having to be quiet all the time, there are certain times when being a bit quieter is preferred, such as when Mummy or Daddy is on the phone, or early in the morning or just before bed. I am teaching him to be considerate of other people and be mindful of the particular situation when it comes to talking or creating noise, rather than teaching him that he needs to be quiet all the time. I also encourage him to talk with me about subjects that interest him, and ask me questions, and I ask him questions too. I want him to be able to think for himself and not be dependent on others to lead him through his life.

Another formative experience for me was when I was nearing the end of secondary school and I had a meeting with the careers advisor. I wanted to go to college and study GCSE Psychology and GCSE Philosophy. He looked at my predicted grades and strongly suggested I do a GNVQ or an A-Level in Art instead, as that was my highest predicted grade. It took until my breaking point in February 2017 for me to realise that I was wasting my life, wasting my potential, and that my desire to learn about these things had been put out of my conscious mind at the very moment the careers advisor told me I shouldn’t study them, and that I still wanted to learn about them, but I had some odd notion that someone would just come and place the knowledge in my head one day, rather than me having to learn about it all myself.

I was always a quick learner when I was younger, very bright and very advanced for my age. I just picked things up naturally and quickly – but only to a point. As soon as I came up against anything that didn’t automatically make sense to me, any kind of resistance, I lost interest and moved on to something else. I was near the top of my class for natural ability and because of this, felt embarrassed to ask for help. I had a preconceived notion that because I was near the top of the class, I shouldn’t have to ask for help; But at the same time, I didn’t feel like I had to apply myself, it should just come naturally. As an aside, I used to skip lessons at school quite a lot, but even to this day I can’t put my finger on exactly why I did it; I just didn’t want to be there. I don’t think it was a particular lesson, subject or group of classmates I was trying to avoid; I would simply rather sit on a bench all by myself in a park, in the cold, bored out of my mind and wishing the time away while smoking cigarettes than be in class. It seems a bit of an odd thing to do, thinking back to it now.

Anyway, going back to learning about psychology and philosophy – they are what I am learning about as a hobby now, as I have realised my old career advisor has no control over me, and I do not need his permission to learn about anything. But on the other hand, everything that has occurred previously in my life has led me to this point – I don’t feel I would have necessarily wanted to learn as much as I do now if I had not lived twenty years of being so lazy and unambitious. I have to be philosophical about this particular paradox.

My son reminds me of myself at his age very much – I remember being able to add up and read quite well before starting school – so I want to make sure he doesn’t give up on things as easily as I used to, and that he finds his calling in life earlier than I did. Although, if I can instil a solid work ethic in him then he should be fine even if he doesn’t find his spark until he is nearly 40. I feel like I just wasted so much time between the ages of 18 and 38, just plodding along, with no ambition, no desire to better myself, no real direction. I am so insanely grateful that my wife stood by me throughout the majority of this time, but I do fear I may have left my renaissance a little too late for her to truly be with me on my way up. As long as he is out in the world and earning money and making friends, and not surviving from pay-cheque to pay-cheque, from month to month, spending all his time playing videogames and eating junk food, I will be happy.

The Johari Window came up a lot in this lesson. With such an interesting name it piqued my interest. It is not something we have covered so far however I must admit after hearing a little bit about it I have done some initial research into it. I look forward to the lesson in which it is the subject.

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