The Healing Art Of Listening

A patient recently told researchers investigating the importance of “proactive care” that time spent with their nurse “was worth 100 prescriptions.”

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This intriguing remark helped those behind the study conclude significant benefits can result from a more holistic approach to caring for those suffering from chronic and recurring depression.

The 3-year investigation, entitled ProCEED and jointly conducted by MIND and the Royal College of Nursing, found this method resulted in better mental health and a notable “improvement in social functioning” for people living with depression.

The results were conclusive enough that a new training pack for nurses has now been produced.

The research involved each patient having up to ten in-person appointments with a practice nurse over two years.

One of six key findings was that “attending all 10 sessions can lead to significant improvement in the severity of depression and a significant increase in social functioning.”

The researchers also reported that the new approach provided patients with vital aspects of care they felt were lacking in “many” GP consultations – more time, “excellent listening skills” and an “empathic, non-judgemental manner”.

Speaking of such benefits, nurse Kate O’Brien, who took part in the research, said: “If I am checking notes for any reason and the person is someone I have worked with on ProCEED it is such a positive feeling to see that they have not needed to restart their antidepressants or that they have only had a couple of GP consultations in the last year. It reinforces the impression of making a difference.”

Nurses from a total of 42 general practices were given the special training aimed at offering patients “proactive, enhanced levels of care”.

“The most important thing was listening, really listening to pick up what patients were trying to tell you,” O’Brien said.

In many healing disciplines, the art of listening to the patient and listening intuitively for inspiration is seen as an essential approach to helping those who are sick.

Doing so requires time, but it also needs a commitment of the heart to listen.

Here are three ways I have found to improve my own listening skills:

1. Get used to listening to others.  Don’t wait until a need becomes acute before doing so. Make it an everyday practice with family, friends and strangers.

2. Make space at the start of each day for quiet time alone with your thoughts. If we daily find a comfort level in quietness that opens us up to deeper insights we will be better prepared to help others in their time of need.

3. If you can, focus your thoughts and take stock of your mental landscape to exclude negative traits like impatience, resentment and guilt.  Nurture instead qualities such as gratitude, humility and kindness.

In such ways people from all walks of life can cultivate the ability and willingness to be more pro-active in caring for others, and will find the listener, too, benefits from doing so.

Author and management consultant Meg Wheatley puts it this way: “Listening moves us closer, it helps us become more whole, more healthy, more holy.”

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