If you are a mental health provider then you may be familiar with the phrase “minimal encouragers.” An important component of a therapist’s listening skillset, minimal encouragers help providers show their patients they are attentive during a session.
Minimal encouragers are small responses that let your client know that you are interested and involved in the conversation occurring between the two for you. They include verbal and nonverbal cues like head nods, smiles, “uh-huhs”, and other supportive nudges that help the client feel seen, heard, and understood as they explain whatever it is they are discussing.
Their purpose of minimal encouragers is to “encourage” clients to continue talking and that you, as the therapist, are hearing what they are saying. Often, clients will try and gauge a therapist’s attentiveness about what they are talking about depending on their facial expressions. Minimal encouragers are an intentional response to whatever the client is talking about to help them know for sure that you are engaged in the discussion, and they can comfortably keep talking.
Minimal encouragers fall under a much larger umbrella of active listening. Active listening is a way of listening that offers full attention to what is being talked about and is a vital component of therapy. Active listening is a sure way to guarantee that you heard and understood the message that a client is trying to deliver. Minimal encouragers help therapists listen more effectively and show clients that their providers are engaging in active listening.
Minimal encouragers should be used in conjunction with other active listening tools including:
Paraphrasing is when a therapist takes important details from what a client told them and reflects that information back to the client. To effectively paraphrase, providers should restate the same information with different words and with much shorter points to reflect the general idea the client was trying to communicate. The purpose of paraphrasing is to essentially test whether or not you heard what the client said to you and the way they meant it. It also helps reinforce the idea that you are listening to the words your client is saying. Not only this, but paraphrasing is a great tool to help the client hear what they said coming from someone else’s mouth, which can provide a lot of clarity in certain situations.
Throughout different sessions and discussions, the client will convey different points, themes, feelings, emotions, and more that are relevant to their progress. A huge part of the therapist-client relationship is helping clients connect the dots that exist between these points. Summarizing is a great active listening tool to do this. Minimal encouragers are used to let the patient know they are listening while they talk, paraphrasing is to make sure you understand different points they talked about and summarizing is used to connect the dots. Summarizing is the process of reflecting back to the client the different points and themes that have come up during their progress and how you, as the therapist, understand how they relate to one another.
Sometimes, as the therapists, you do not always immediately understand what a client is trying to say or you want them to expand on a topic. This is when clarifying questions come in. Clarifying questions are an active listening tool that invites clients to elaborate on the message they are trying to convey. These are important to the therapeutic process because it helps make sure the therapist and client are on the same page. Good examples of clarifying questions include things like “could you explain more about…?” or “Did I understand....correctly?”
The active listening process should involve giving the client the spotlight to talk about whatever it is they are needing to process with their therapist. While minimal encouragers, paraphrasing, summarization, and clarifying questions all have their place in the process, they should not be interjected where they do not belong. Therapists should always wait until the client has come to a natural pause or end to a particular part of their discussion. Interruptions can make your client feel like they do not have the power to talk about whatever it is they need to.
Ultimately, active listening is a complex component of therapy that is vital to the success of discussion and communication throughout the process. From minimal encouragers to clarifying questions, each tool should be used to help communicate to the client that you are listening carefully to the words coming out of their mouth.