I was fresh from completing my six month Listening and Communication course, when I dropped into my favorite watering hole and Tom, the barkeep, greeted me:
“Hi Dave, what will you have today?”
“Give me a tonic water with ice and a slice of lemon. I’m trying to lay off of the alcohol.”
Tom came back with my drink and said:
“Are you waiting to listen to someone with a problem, like you used to do?”
“Tom, I’m open to anyone who wants to talk about a difficulty. I’m a good listener. Humans are social beings and they find release in sharing their thoughts with others.”
“There’s a chap at the end of the bar who told me he has problems. I’ll bring him over,” said Tom, pointing to the darkened corner of the tavern.
“Sure, bring him over Tom.”
A couple of minutes later a tall, dark haired chap hopped up on the stool next to me.
“Hi, I’m Jim, I was told you’re a good listener.”
“I’m Dave, and yes, I know listening helps people unload burdens.”
Jim looked at me with questioning eyes.
“What is good listening?”
“Listening is a form of helping conversation. When I’m listening to someone’s problem, I try to put aside my own judgements so they don’t interfere.”
“Does a listener ask questions?”
“Oh yes, a listener asks questions to clarify issues and to broaden the horizons of the talker and to challenge their thinking.”
“I tend to get upset and angry when I talk about my problems,” said Jim, waiting for my reaction.
“A burst of feelings from the talker can be scary for the listener but, hopefully I can manage because I know expressing emotion can be helpful and it might make the help-seeker initiate change.”
“Well Dave, I feel comfortable in your company. What are the reoccurring problems you’ve encountered?”
‘Well Jim, most problems in counseling practice involve change and some kind of loss. All changes and transitions in life bring stress and have a great impact on the help-seeker.”
“Well, I’ve got a problem with finding meaning in my life.”
I took a long sip of my tonic and lemon.
“I’ve found there are three avenues that lead to meaning fulfillment.
First, doing a deed or some creative work, like listening to people’s problems.
Second, experiencing something or encountering someone. Meaning can be found in Work and Love.
And third, facing a fate we cannot change so we have to make the best of what we have by rising above ourselves and changing.”
“Are you telling me that meaning can come out of suffering?”
“That’s right, Jim.”
“Well, I better tell you my problem then…
My wife has been depressed for a year now since her parents got killed in a car accident. She doesn’t feel like doing anything, housework, cooking, or socializing. The doc has her on antidepressants. She has even threatened to become a recluse. She has lost her energy and inclination to do anything. She has lots of moods. The situation is getting me down now. I’ve lost hope in the future because my wife and I used to do everything together and now that is gone.
So it has ended up with two depressed people under the same roof. I now tend to get angry with my wife because she can’t get better. I feel guilty about that. I can see myself becoming her carer and I don’t know if I’m fit for that role.”
Jim ordered another pint of beer and waited for my reaction.
I was so intent on listening to Jim that I found it hard to get my mouth moving with an answer!
“Well Jim, you’re seeing the event of your wife’s sickness in an unfavorable light, and it is regrettable, and it’s affecting your stability. Your thoughts are distorted and your belief of no hope for the future is unhealthy, consequently you have destructive actions such as your anger, guilt and fear. You are responding very negatively to the event.”
“What am I supposed to do to stop these anxiety feelings?” Jim’s voice was getting louder.
“Your wife’s G.P. and therapist are in charge of her depression but sadly you have been left out of the equation to fend for yourself. There is a tendency to forget about the carer in many cases. We have to find a way to get rid of your toxic negative thoughts.”
“I have these thoughts all the time,” said Jim, dejectedly.
“That’s why they are called, “Negative Automatic Thoughts”. You see Jim, these thoughts are distorted and unhelpful ways of interpreting a situation.”
“So how do I get rid of these distorted thoughts?”
“You need to ask yourself: “How can I change my thoughts in order to feel better and act more constructively?”
“So, should I try to find an alternative thought?”
“That’s right, instead of thinking there’s no hope for the future and being consumed by anxiety, instead think, “If I MUST go through this bad patch, I might as well try to make the best of it and live as enjoyably as I can. I will ACCEPT the situation and live my life.”
“Okay, I’ll try it, but my concentration is all over the place now days and I get very emotional.”
“Remember Jim, and this is important, the best way to really consolidate your new thought is to ACT on it. Don’t get angry at your wife, be more compassionate.”
“I have to go now Dave, thanks for listening and giving me some pointers. I probably will need some more help, can we meet up again sometime?”
“Sure thing Jim, lets make it on Fridays at 6PM after your work week is over. I’ll be here on my green padded stool waiting. We will talk about concentration and emotion next.”
Jim and I shook hands and off he went and there was a faint smile on his face.
Also published on Medium.