What Therapy is Really About and Improving Your Listening Skills

couples family therapy listening parenting therapy Jan 11, 2022


When I decided to pursue a degree in Marriage and Family Therapy, common comments/questions I got from people were:  “I would never be able to do what you do! I would never be able to decide if a couple should get divorced or not. It’s such a huge responsibility!” Or “Tell me what I’m thinking, I know you can tell.” Or “You’re so lucky you’re a therapist. It must be nice to always know what to do.” 

Ummm. What? Are they actually serious?

After having similar interactions with many intelligent people, I realized the Therapy World is misunderstood. Too many think of therapy as a crystal ball with all the answers.  Almost computer like - you input all the problems and the personalities, and BOOM! The computer (therapist) spits out the solution. 

Actually, that would be kinda cool. 

But that’s not therapy. Therapy has many layers. Therapy is having the space to stop, think and listen.  Mostly to listen to ourselves- with the help of someone you trust.  Therapy isn’t about asking the therapist for solutions. Therapy is about seeking internal clarity. Therapy is knowing someone is there with you and you have their undivided attention. Therapy is someone putting a mirror up to you and gently holding your hand while asking you to look inside. 

Sometimes. The vision in that mirror is frightening. (And sometimes after brushing our hair and putting on a little mascara, the vision is already better.)

I once spoke publicly and said  “Healthy people go for therapy.” I got slack for that. “Shifi, let's not pretend that it’s the healthy among us who go for therapy!” 

But it is correct that going for therapy is a sign of health. Because we all have “stuff.” And healthy people aren’t afraid of listening to themselves and looking inward - oftentimes with the help of  therapy.

An important step in therapy is helping people take responsibility for their own lives. Once they develop the awareness that they’re in the driver’s seat, change happens. They stop complaining about their cleaning lady, spouse, children, friends, neighbors, and teachers (written in order of importance!) and begin to realize that sometimes we can be a cause of our own suffering.    

People arrive to therapy when they’re at a crossroad: Do I go left? Or right? The feeling of insecurity and confusion often push the client to make the first call to therapy.  

The most important credential that therapists need - is the ability to listen. To what is being said. But equally important is, to listen to what is not being said. Listening to the silence. Listening to the heart racing of both the therapist and the client, listening to the tears, listening for what can be changed, and what cannot. 

I’ve heard this line many times in my life. “You have two ears, and one mouth. There’s a reason for that ratio!” The first time that was said to me was by my third grade teacher who thought I spoke too much in class. Shocker, I know!    

But the line stuck with me.  And here I am. A Therapist.  

AKA: A Listener. 

Well, for the most part. 

A public admission: Yes, yes, out of the Therapy Session, I, too, have room to improve my listening skills. We’re in this together! 

The skill of listening to others needs to be developed by all of us. Because, in general, people STINK at listening. People already have their solution, advice and response formulated before the person finishes their sentence.  Especially, parents with children, teachers with students, and husbands and wives. (Wives to husbands are always perfect.) (Ok, Joking.) We need to practice. We need to empower the speaker. We need patience to listen to their stories. We need time. We need to really care! And all this listening… may just keep people we love out of therapy. 

Some key points about listening to others (and ourselves):

  • Be okay with silence. Silence is therapeutic.  Many people are uncomfortable with silence but learning to be okay with silence is a skill. Silence is powerful and often the person ends up finding clarity in those moments of silence. And you’ve helped the person gain clarity by not saying a word. 
  • Most often people are looking for listeners. Not for fixers. 
  • Be able to ask the speaker what they’re looking for. Empathy? A place to vent? Solution? Advice? A hug? It’s not awkward!  Ask them directly.  
  • ENJOY your toddler telling you a secret and spitting in your ear.
  • Listening is being able to hear what the other person is saying and understanding it from their perspective.  
  • Pause before responding. Sometimes, those few seconds before responding will allow you to fully process what the person is saying. It also gives the speaker a chance to continue - should they want to. 
  • Be curious.
  • Be non-judgmental.
  • And this one’s really important: Please! Put your phone down. Phones kill listening.
  • And finally, don’t claim to have all the answers. Encourage the speaker to think for themselves. It’s powerful when they feel you believe that they have the answers within them. 

Congrats!! You are now a (free!!) therapist!

To wrap up:  People come to therapy to be heard.  Mostly, to hear themselves. But also to be heard by another. Listening skills are required in all relationships - both in and out of the therapy session. 

With developed listening skills, the people around you will receive the message they crave to get from therapy: I am here for you. I’m available.  And you have my full attention.



VERY IMPORTANT: As promised, the Awkward Moments of 2021 List has been posted to the website! Most really made me LOL!  

There are 2 winners! CHECK IT OUT! Both winners will receive 50% off my Social Skills and Emotion Management for Children of All Ages course! Feel free to email me more awkward moments as they happen and the list will be continuously updated! Check it out at www.ShifiLieberman.com 

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Welcome to our very first newsletter! For those who know me, I’m sure you are not surprised that I created a course about Social Skills. I mean, my social skills are just so appropriate. Right?! 


For those of you who do not know me (yet), you will learn that few things excite me more than an open and honest conversation about real life.  Life is about connecting to the people around us, and there’s no better way to connect than being open and honest about real life issues. Any time. Any place.


Inappropriate. According to some!


So I’m inviting you to my new and exciting newsletter called Socially Appropriate-ish  because, I really think I am Socially Appropriate- ish. Honestly, my initial name for this newsletter was “Socially Inappropriate.” I thought that was best. I was excited about it until my kids were like — “ummm, you‘re joking, right?” So I quickly came up with another name and pretended that I was joking all along… which, I was not😳.


Being in the field of Marriage and Family Therapy for the last 18+  years and working in various environments (which you will read about) has enhanced my  Socially Appropriate-ish skills even more. Therapists are simply forced into awkward and complex situations daily. To be clear, I love what I do! And— I don’t mind awkward. So, this newsletter will include a dose of some of that awkwardness. 


This newsletter will include the following topics:


Relationship Issues, Social Skills, Emotion Management,   Anxiety (that’s a biggie today), Bullying, Shame, Trauma, Attachment Theory, Crazy Kids, Crazy Parents (that should be a diagnosis IMHO!), Abuse (never funny), First Year of Marriage (sometimes funny), Different Models of Therapy,  Empathy, Triggers, Developing Confidence, The Emotional vs Logical Brain, Differences between Men and Women (always funny), OCD, Emotional Acceptance … And much more!


So, if you want to stay on my email list, no need to do anything at this point except to wait for my next newsletter. Which I would like to say will be weekly - though I have a fear of committing. So let’s say weekly-ish! And if you’d like to unsubscribe, by all means, hit the unsubscribe button below 👇🏻.   I’m mature, so I won’t take it personally. Even I find “unsubscribing” to unwanted emails therapeutic.  It’s an amazing way to relieve some pent up frustrations. No?


Oh! About that. There’s a lot more coming about other healthy ways to take out frustration in later emails. Not for the unsubscribers. 


Also, I’ve been directed by marketing experts to give a freebie out with this first newsletter to keep the audience engaged. (Easy for them to say!)  So, here goes the freebie: for the next 24 hours, please reach out with any appropriate question you think I can help with. And I will get back to you (but remember my fear of commitment, so I’m not saying when).


Have any quick questions or concerns? Is your child a perfectionist? Not sure if you should take your child’s anxiety seriously and go for professional help? Is your son/daughter/spouse afraid of the robbers/fires/clowns? Is your dating child having a hard time coming up with conversation on dates? Curious how to help a child build confidence? Do family members (read: you) have low frustration tolerance? Worried about your marriage because you feel disconnected from your spouse? Are you thinking about your childhood lately and wondering if it’s time to process something? Having a hard time with your parents? 


Reach out! Hopefully, I can help or at least point you in the right direction. But please note that, I’m only committing (eek) to writing you a short text or voice note :) 


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I really want to hear from you.  Feel free to reply to this email with any questions, comments or criticisms. (I know what you want to tell me Mom— you think writing about Socially Appropriate-ish content is inappropriate. I know! You can book a session with me to talk this through! 🤣😘) 


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With lots of excitement!