Listening to People Who Have Mental Illness

Good communications with people who have mental illness starts with listening well. Really hearing someone’s feelings and thoughts is a great gift of love and respect.

People with mental illness could be experiencing auditory hallucinations, overwhelming feelings of depression, intense anxiety, and cognitive disorganization. So we need to avoid arguments and heated communication.

They may feel lonely, inferior to others and disrespected. You may be able to have an influence on these feelings when you demonstrate your positive regard for them. When you show that you accept them and have compassion for them, you offer hope and understanding.  As a positive benefit, they may respond better to your requests.

What Not to Do: Types of Bad Listeners

This list is from Listening for Heaven’s Sake – Class Notes by Equipping Ministries International. Do any of the listeners below remind you of you? Particularly when you are under stress?

Type of ListenerCharacteristics
The InterrogatorAsks lots of questions
Focuses on the details
Satisfies their own need to know
Focuses on facts rather than feelings
The GeneralGives orders
Takes command or control
Assumes responsibility
Focuses on the outcome
The PhariseeBlames and shames
Condemning outlook
Focuses on the person being “bad”
Says “You should” or “You ought to” often
The LabelerOversimplifies problems
Pigeon-holes people
Believes that putting a name to it equals a solution
Has a quick-fix mentality
The Casserole PersonTries to cover over pain with food
Avoids the unpleasant
Expects kind actions to remove pain
The HistorianFocuses on the past
Can’t remain in the present
Speaks triggered memories
Loses focus on the speaker
The Bumper StickerGives trite answers
Oversimplifies problems
Is quick with clichés

Steps Toward Being a Good Listener

  • Relax and be calm.
  • Minimize distractions.  (Can I turn off the TV?)
  • Make eye contact unless it is threatening.
  • Discuss one topic at a time.
  • Ask for opinions and suggestions.
  • Don’t take it personally when it’s the illness talking.
  • Avoid bringing up the diagnosis.
  • Don’t use sarcasm.
  • Speak simply and directly.

Next time we’ll discuss the basics of therapeutic communications: using reflective listening and I statements.

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