By Victor Hulbert, with Karen Holford
How can we listen better when people are distressed? That is a big question for which we need answers as people deal with the myriad issues related to social isolation, illness, mental health, and the financial pressures caused by the current COVID-19 situation.
The answer came, in part, from a training session organized by Karen Holford, Trans-European Division (TED) Family Ministries director and family therapist. Holford collaborated with Helgi Jónsson, TED Health Ministries director and psychiatrist, to create an hour-long Zoom webinar. The result, on Tuesday, April 7, 2020, was almost 30 people gathered together from across Europe to learn how to listen well to people in distress.
The initiative developed from a conversation with Leo España, president of the Albanian Mission. He contacted Holford and Jónsson to discuss the need to train local church members to offer a telephone listening service for the people of Albania.
Many Albanian citizens are living in stringent lockdown conditions, losing their jobs, feeling isolated, experiencing family conflict, and becoming very anxious about COVID-19. By Tuesday, the message about the webinar had reached both the ADRA Europe office and the Inter-European Division. Individuals there were wondering how to train people to be effective and caring telephone listeners.
Holford and Jónsson rose to the challenge. Holford adapted a workshop on listening that she has used in relationship training and blended it with Jónsson’s ideas to create a simple webinar. This first attempt at Zoom-based training was recorded so that it could be shared with other groups.
“It’s not a finely polished presentation, but it’s packed with useful information to help those who want to be channels of God’s love into the lives of distressed, anxious, bereaved, confused, and lonely people,” Holford stated.
Alongside the webinar recording, Holford and Jónsson provided handouts on listening well; a draft “script” for a telephone listening session; and information on assessing the risk of suicide.
Several other groups have now shown interest in this listening project.
“Everyone can learn how to listen better to the people around them,” Jónsson reflected. “When people experience the care of a good listener, it helps them to feel less alone, to feel comforted, to sort out their muddled thoughts, to reduce their conflicts, and to experience the loving and generous care of another human being.”
“We think we don’t need to learnhow to listen, because we’re doing it all the time,” Holford said, “but often we’re not really hearing what others are saying to us, let alone listening deeplyto their thoughts and concerns.”
This listening webinar offers lots of simple ways that everyone can listen better, with their eyes, ears, mouths, minds, hearts, and hands, in ways that can make a difference to the people who need someone to talk to.
Her challenge: “Who do you need to listen to today? Why not call someone who lives alone and give them the special gift of listening to their fears and concerns?”
The listening webinar can be found among the Family Ministries resources on the live:kind section of the TED website. Scrolling down the page, past the live:kind ideas, shows both the webinar and the handouts. On request, the files can also be made available in a format to facilitate translation to other languages.