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Hinshelwood, B. (1987). Editorial. Brit. J. Psychother., 3(3):203-204.

(1987). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 3(3):203-204


Bob Hinshelwood

Public expression of (a) personal pain and (b) shameful feelings such as hate (and/or sex) is the common denominator of all psychotherapies. Whether the ‘public’ that is to witness these expressions is the single person of the analyst, or the large concourse of the daily meeting in a therapeutic community, there is a common acceptance that listening is an active, not a passive role.

What that action is, how it is modulated according to theory and how theory explains the profundity of the experience of being listened to, these, however, are all extremely debatable from widely divergent positions.

Listening is the most highly accurate stereotactic machine for operating on the smallest and most localised centres of the personality. It is a pharmaceutical with a much higher precision of action on the right chemo-receptors at the right synapses than any chemical compound. The precision with which human beings can use words on each other with effect is extraordinary. The only thing more extraordinary is the confusion and lack of precision in our thinking about how it works.

Broadly speaking the activity of listening to promote self-disclosure and selfawareness is conceived in two alternative forms - either it is a technique, or range of techniques, that are applied to enable the person to explore what he has never experienced before. Or it is a method for unblocking experiences that have been distorted and repudiated. It is a distinction which has always reminded me of that between engineering and horticulture - techniques for building something, or techniques for releasing growth.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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