The Art of Listening

I remember many things from the beginning of my practice of Naturopathic Medicine but the one thing that continues to stick out in my mind is how after a visit patients would continually comment that it was the first time that they had felt heard and how therapeutic it was. It was a common theme which intrigued me and I sought out to continue to develop and improve my listening skills. Throughout the years I have found great power in listening and believe it truly is an art as well as the foundation to any relationship.




If you look up “listen” in the dictionary you will find definitions such as: “to make a conscious act to hear something, to pay attention; heed, the active process of receiving and responding to spoken and sometimes unspoken messages”. In these definitions we can see that listening is an active process which requires engagement, practice and time to master.

As health care practitioners and individuals in the health industry it is our job is to be good listeners. Why are good listening skills important? They are important because we are drawing out crucial information. It takes time to develop a relationship and if we are better at listening, we are better at finding clues that can lead us to the root cause of the dis-ease. People are more than their symptoms and it is our job to listen without judgment and give our full attention. It is not just the physical ailment that we need to look at. We are investigators, listening to everything the patient is saying, even in their non-verbal communication – including facial expressions, posture, eye contact, tone of voice, gestures etc. Everything that is shared is a piece of the puzzle.

Individuals know themselves best and are the greatest source of information. We can tap into this resource by actively listening. A relationship with the patient is one of the most fundamental aspects to their healing. If a patient feels safe, understood and has trust then they will feel cared for and will feel safe in opening up.

Have you ever been in conversation with someone and sharing something heartfelt and they reach for their phone, start looking at their watch or seem interested in anyone/thing but you? How did that make you feel? I have asked patients this question and some of their replies included feeling unheard, unworthy, unimportant, not validated.




In today’s rushed society, people seldom have or take the time to focus on themselves with the constant bombardment of stimuli and the list of things that need to get done. They will often out the focus on taking care of others or doing for others over taking care of themselves. Between the office, picking up kids, and making dinner etc, the focus is geared towards taking care of and doing for others over taking care of themselves. When patients come into the clinic, it creates time in their day to be able focus on themselves. They are often seeking advice, a place to feel safe, understood and for the feeling of being taken care of. This all starts with being heard. It is shocking that poor listening and being rushed has become a norm and is acceptable. How is it possible to fully understand what is happening with that person as a whole if we are not fully present and actively listening?

How do we prepare to listen to someone?

  • It is important to leave any agendas, judgment and personal issues at the door.
  • Go into the visit with the mind as a clean slate ready to be filled.
  • Start by putting your full attention on the person in front of you and Initiate eye contact. This does not mean staring into them but rather creating a safe container for the person and inviting them to the share their story.
  • Be authentic. Others know when we are not present. Listening is not something you can fake.
  • Ask open ended questions.
  • Listen with compassion and being open to understanding everything they have to say, listenening with the intention of understanding them. If there is something you don’t understand, ask for clarification but allow them to complete without interruption.
  • Stay fully present until they are complete. Do not rush them or make them feel like they are being an inconvenience. They will not feel comfortable in fully disclosing information and the likelihood of him/her trusting you will be small.

Listening is truly an art and one that is becoming a dying art. If we are going to focus on a more holistic approach to health we need to master this skill. As the world gets more advanced in technology and we get more “efficient”, we are losing the ability to make real connections with each other, be present and form real relationships. Perhaps we need to learn to listen more and prescribe less.


Brandy James, ND

Brandy James Web ReadyDr. Brandy takes a holistic and individualized approach to medicine, utilizing a combination of botanical medicine, nutrition, homeopathy and lifestyle and is also trained in Neuroemotional Technique (NET). An integration of these is used to treat a wide range of conditions including but not limited to Digestive concerns, Women’s Health, hormonal issues, pediatrics and a special interest in addressing Stress and its numerous effects on the body.

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