Mental health

Forum: Art of listening needs cultivating

Forum contributor Zhang Zhe Xin is to be commended for his courage in sharing his personal experience during difficult times (Mental health: Offering a listening ear can go a long way, Nov 12).

As a mental health professional, I appreciate his point that, often, opening up to someone who is willing to listen can bring about a change in feeling, thinking and actions.

However, listening is an art not naturally cultivated in Singapore.

In our culture where problem-solving is emphasised, offering a listening ear can turn into a session of giving advice.

In most situations, such attempts at advising and solving someone's problem can actually not be helpful. It is thus often very challenging for people in distress to open up.

They may think: "What's the use? They wouldn't listen. I know what they would say because they would invariably provide solutions." (This may not be a bad thing if listening rapport has first been established).

Will there come a time when people can listen to others without trying to solve their problems?

For that to happen, we have to learn to respect people's ability to solve their own problems. Listening entails allowing the person the opportunity to process his own entangled feelings and thoughts.

That's hard to happen when those we ask for help (like our parents, teachers, bosses and the authorities) feel threatened by our complaints and instinctively shift blame by defending their own actions.

Certainly, Singapore has a tough battle to overcome in encouraging good mental health.

Thomas Lee Hock Seng (Dr)

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