Nondirective Listening Responses

Nondirective listening responses are designed to encourage clients to talk freely and openly about whatever they want. Similar to attending behaviors, these techniques do not overtly direct or lead clients. Instead, they track central client messages by reflecting back to clients what they already said.

Even nondirective responses may influence clients to talk about particular topics. There are at least two reasons for this. First, interviewers may inadvertently, or purposefully, pay closer attention to clients when they discuss certain issues. For example, perhaps an interviewer wants a client to talk about his relationship with his mother. By using eye contact, head nodding, and positive facial expressions whenever the client mentions his mother, the interviewer can direct the client toward "mother talk." Conversely, the interviewer can look uninterested whenever the client shifts topics and discusses something other than his mother. Technically, such an interviewer is using social reinforcement to influence the client's verbal behavior. This selective attending probably occurs frequently in clinical practice. After all, psychoanalytic interviewers are more interested in mother talk, person-centered interviewers are more interested in feeling talk, and behaviorists are more interested in specific, concrete behavioral talk.

Second, clients talk about such a wide range of topics that it is impossible to pay equal attention to every issue a client brings up. Some selection is necessary. For example, imagine a case in which a young woman begins a session by saying:

"We didn't have much money when I was growing up, and I suppose that frustrated my father. He beat us five kids on a regular basis. Now that I'm grown and have kids of my own, I'm doing okay, but sometimes I feel I need to discipline my kids more . . . harder . . . you know what I mean?"

Pretend you are the interviewer for this case. Which of the many issues this woman brought up would you choose to focus on? And remember, all this—being beaten by her father, being poor, doing okay now, feeling like disciplining her children more severely, and more—was expressed in the session's first 20 seconds.

Which topic did you focus on? Aside from indicating something about your personal values, focusing on any single aspect of this woman's message, selecting only one topic to paraphrase or nod your head to, is a directive listening response. To be truly nondi-rective, interviewers need to respond equally to every piece of the entire message, which is unrealistic. Therefore, be aware of the powerful influence even nondirective responses have on what clients choose to talk about.

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