Friday, January 23, 2009

What Works to Help People Change?

Someone to Care for Me and Listen to my Story
I was very eager to get into graduate school at Southern Illinois University because I wanted to learn all the secrets hidden away in the psychology and counseling books and revealed only to high scoring advanced students like me. I was scared silly when they told me I had to take a special test to get into the graduate college for counseling college students. My performance in high school was pretty low and I always had the secret suspicion that I was faking people out with my quick Sweeten wit and smooth tongue.

But, surprise, surprise, I did rather well on that test, coming out in the 99the percentile of all students in the USA. Now I felt ready to tackle all the tough questions about how to help people in distress. I couldn't wait to listen to the professors who knew all the secret techniques. Man, was I disappointed. There were no secrets. All I found were huge volumes of theories about Freud, Jung, Skinner and Rogers. It seemed as though I was in seminary because everything focused on having faith in one of these philosophies.

It was interesting to read about the way Skinner could teach chickens, pigs and monkeys how to run through mazes and salivate when a bell was rung. How would that help me deal with a depressed student who was contemplating suicide? The ideas of Carl Rogers appealed to me most. His approach had actually grown out of his early years youth leader at a church near Wheaton, Illinois and grew into a full fledged theory of persons when after seminary when he became a psychologist.

Rogers believed in what he called "Non-judgemental acceptance" of every client and what the client said he or she wanted in life. That is widely accepted today but in 1966 it was a radical idea. Despite the fact that I was a heroic advice giver and super problem solver I agreed with Rogers that it was not the Helper's job to tell people what to do. I liked the theory but failed miserably at doing it.

Here I am some forty three years later and I still believe Carl Rogers was on to something great and good. And even more important, the Bible agrees with him and counseling research strongly agrees with his approach. I don't think he supported very much that the Bible teaches but about caring he was right on.

Dr. Rogers actually taught people how to listen. I needed to learn listening skills and that I desperately wanted others to listen to me. At church and home and work I needed to be heard, but few people actually paid attention to what I thought and felt. When I read what Dr. Rogers wrote I identified with it and had a strong emotional resonance.

Now I know that nothing is more important to helping people grow and change than listening to them. Drugs, psychological interventions, warfare and preaching are relatively impotent unless we also show love by listening. As the saying goes, "People do not care how much we know until they know how much we care". And care comes through our ears.

1. Do you want others to really listen to you?

2. Do you actively interrupt or actively listen?

Gary Sweeten

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