Rebekka's approach is strongly influenced by mindfulness practices, recognizing the mind-body connection. She works in a trauma-informed, culturally sensitive, feminist and holistic way. Diploma: M.A. Clinical and Health Psychology, ELTE, Budapest
Last Updated on October 13, 2023 by It’s Complicated
If you’re in a helping profession, like therapy or counseling, you know how important self-care is to prevent burnout and compassion fatigue. And if you haven’t already, you might want to consider adding a listening partner to your self-care toolbox. In this article, Rebekka Lehmann guides you through what a listening partnership is, how it works, and why it can be so beneficial for mental health professionals.
“Is there anything else that needs to be said today?“ my listening partner asks me at the end of our call.
“No, just that I’m so grateful for this space to reflect, and for your valuable insights. I’m so glad we’re doing this.“
While there are many ways to prevent burnout, I’ve found having a listening partner non-negotiable in my own box of self-care tools, and it’s one I’ve been recommending to people in helping professions ever since I tried it.
Listening partner meetings are, first and foremost, a non-judgmental space for regular exchange between you and a friend or colleague who’s also in a helping profession.
It’s a chance to connect and live in community — an aspect that is truly important, given how therapy can be such a lonely trade.
This type of community can give us the opportunity to celebrate each other and ourselves for the amazing work we do in this world. It’s also a way to…
- find acceptance for our situation
- express appreciation and gratitude toward one another
- hold each other accountable
- exchange ideas and strategies
- and talk about anything that’s on your mind and in your heart.
It can show us: I’m not alone with my feelings and challenges, whatever they may be.
Listening partnership how-to
The frequency and length of your meeting depends entirely on your needs, but I’ve found that meeting once a week for 60 minutes (and adjust it at a later point if need be) works well.
The guidelines to your meetings can be quite simple:
- meet online, by phone, or in person
- make sure to carve out uninterrupted time
- each person gets equal time to share
- create safe space — that means: communicate mindfully, listen without judgement, keep things confidential
- don’t patronize, only support
- be compassionate, both toward your partner and yourself
- there’s no need to fix anything or feel responsible for the other person’s feelings
- when problems arise, we assume that person has the ability to find a solution
- give feedback or advice only when asked
- when needed, ask questions to help the other person figure things out, such as: “What would make this situation easier? What would make you feel better right now? What do you think would help?”
Once you’ve gone over these guidelines, talk about what else you and your listening partner may need to make this a safe space for you both.
You may decide on your own structure, but here’s what I’ve found to work well:
Start the meeting with: How is each of us doing today? What went well recently? What am I proud of and want to celebrate?
Continue with a topic for that day. It may emerge while you share how you’ve been, or you can use one of the topic suggestions below. Keep track of any goals the person wants to achieve until the next meeting.
After half the time, switch roles.
End the meeting with expressing gratitude for yourself and the other, or with three things you’re looking forward to in the coming week.
To give you an idea on how to first get started, here are a few sample topics for your meetings:
The goal of the first meeting is to get to know each other. After going through the guidelines together and reviewing what each of you needs to make these meetings a safe space, share your desires or motivations for these gatherings. Share something about yourself that the other doesn’t already know to really get to know each other. The sooner you open up, the sooner a trusting dynamic will develop between the two of you.
What’s your why
Tell each other the story of why you chose your profession. What’s your vision for doing this important work in the world? How do you think your work contributes to your life’s mission? How does this work align with your values, or how does it not? Share with each other how that makes you feel.
Talk about what you’re grateful for in your work. Recall a specific moment from the last days and tell your listening partner about it. Share what you’re proud, and let them shower you with encouragement. Discuss if and how gratitude is part of your work culture and how it affects the atmosphere you create for yourself and others. Think of someone you’ve been grateful for recently, and reach out to them after your meeting to tell them how you feel.
Talk about what challenges you most in your professional role right now. What client makes you feel things you have yet to understand? What subject would you like to learn more about, so that you feel more confident in your work? This is also the place to talk about anything that makes you feel uncomfortable in your (solitary) work environment, a team, or possible business partners.
Talk about what boundaries are important for you and your mental health when it comes to your profession. Help each other keep the boundaries you’ve set for yourself — both at work and outside of it. This may mean evaluating specific situations that were difficult in terms of how you respected or ignored your own needs. At this meeting, help each other identify these needs and make an agreement to support each other in realizing them.
Lastly, check in regularly with each other to see if your needs have changed and if they’d like to adjust the structure of the meetings in one way or another.
Being a risk group
As mental health professionals, we’re a risk group for chronic stress, burnout and compassion fatigue. The number of tasks and responsibilities as well as the pain and suffering we witness daily are just some of the risk factors we face.
But we do have some freedom to decide how to spend our time, and what kind of boss we want to be to ourselves. We should use that freedom to the benefit of our own mental health.
If this approach resonates with you, reach out to someone in your community today. Share this post and ask if they’d like to become your listening partner.
Btw, when I asked my listening partner how she feels about our space, she said:
“Our weekly meeting is a blessing and brings me forward and more toward myself each time, both as a human and a nutritional therapist.”
I hope it’ll do the same for you.
The concept of the listening partnership is part of the bonus “Building your helper community” of the course “Present. Balanced. Whole. A self-care journey for people in helping professions” that teaches helpers how tend to their own needs before taking care of others.
If you’ve been pouring from an empty cup and are ready to prioritize your own mental and emotional health, or are looking for ways to prevent chronic stress, burnout, or compassion fatigue, head on over here to learn about the course.