This falls under one of my job scope.
What does being present mean? I like to define being present as having an open mind, attitude and posture when being with someone. A counselling session is a secure space where we can be authentic and trust each other. Starting a therapeutic relationship can be scary for both the client and the counsellor. Like all relationships, it takes effort, acceptance, and time from both sides. There are many ways to be present and one of mine is to be in 自然.
It is a term I learnt from the dōjō where I practise martial arts. 自然 can be translated as being in a natural state where one is unaffected by their origins or past and by anything “invented,” “created” or “manipulated”. This leaves space for inconceivable change. When I am with my clients, I try to be in 自然 in the hope that they will be comfortable enough to be themselves and to talk about their struggles.
If you are speaking to someone about something that is important you, how would you feel if they were dismissive and inattentive? Being present with a client is important because it acknowledges them.
When I was at university, my lecturer spoke of his experience volunteering in 2004 when a tsunami hit Banda Aceh in Sumatra, Indonesia. He could not speak a word of Indonesian or any other of the local dialects but he learned the value of being present with the victims. It was impossible for him to understand the loss they felt and it would be wrong for him to tell the victims that he did. He told us that he used and presented one of the basic components of counselling, which is to be present with the client. It was simple but significant at the time for the victims. He sat there in silence as he provided a safe space for the victims to grieve, to lament, to express, and to feel.
While it does not take too much to be present, it requires a whole of you to be present in an important conversation. The following might help us understand the notion of being present during a conversation:
Where are you?
Is your mind wandering? Are you thinking of what to buy for lunch while waiting for the speaker to finish?
Are you facing the speaker?
...or at your phone? Body language speaks louder than we think.
Are you waiting for the speaker to finish?
It is not a good habit to listen to respond. Sometimes, what the speaker needs is a listener who could provide them a silent space to process what is on their mind.
Are your surroundings too noisy?
In a noisy environment, important information can be misheard and to great harm. For example, we might hear ‘deaf’ instead of ‘death’ or ‘lack toast and tolerant’ instead of “lactose intolerant” or ‘piece of mind' instead of ‘peace of mind”. If there is a need to clarify with the speaker, please do. Or better yet, move to a quieter place.