The Other Side of the Couch –Listening


I recently had the pleasure of attending an unusual conference in our nation’s capital. NO, the conference had nothing to do with politics (although we did have a surprise visit from “President Obama” – for split seconds the audience really did think this very talented impersonator was the real thing!)  The theme of the conference was Joyful Aliveness, and the hotel was rocked by shouts of “You are Amazing!” from the presenters, the participants, and anyone else who was brought in for any purpose.

I was attending the annual conference of Imago Relationship Therapists. IRI is an international organization that brings together Imago therapists from all over the world.  This year there were participants from 21 different countries, including 8 from Estonia, 17 from South Korea, and 4 from South Africa.

Imago Relationship Therapy, first developed by Harville Hendricks and his wife, Helen LeKelly Hunt, is a way of healing relationships through the use of a variety of processes, most importantly through the use of Dialogical processes.  First developed nearly 25 years ago, Imago is used by over 1000 therapists around the world, changing the world, as we say “one couple at a time.”  (For more information, check out, or just google it on Youtube.)

Imago processes are based on very precise and attuned listening, a skill that most people have never been taught.  What more often than not happens when two people are talking about a subject that brings up any feeling of conflict is that while one person is talking and the other is ostensibly listening, what is really going on is that the supposed listener is actually listening to what is going on inside his or her own head, so as to effectively challenge or contradict the other.  The same thing goes on when the other person is called upon to listen.  WE DON’T LISTEN, and we, therefore, often base our behavior on erroneous information.

What was beautiful about this conference was that I was in a community of trained and respectful listeners who, even in the midst of disagreement (and there were disagreements), were able to listen, take in new information, even change their positions based on new information.  I enjoyed it so much!

Below is a poem that was shared after the conference.  It sums up my thoughts about listening.  Enjoy!


“Reduced to Joy” by Mark Nepo

We can grow by simply listening, the way the tree on

 that ridge listens its branches to the sky,

 the way blood listens its flow to the site

 of a wound, the way you listen like a basin when

 my head so full of grief can’t look you in the eye.

 We can listen our way out of anger, if we let the heart

 soften the wolf we keep inside.

 We can last by listening deeply,

 the way roots reach for the next inch of earth,

 the way an old turtle listens all he hears into the pattern of his shell.


About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:

Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.”

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