Read examples of how our 'heart' contributes to the listening process
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Issue 10
Sept 2014

The 'Heart' of Listening -
Tuning into our Clients Part 4


Welcome to Issue 10 of Practice Pavestones, our first Spring edition. 

Continuing on our Attending Series, i
n this Issue we will be exploring a rather esoteric aspect of the process of 'tuning in' to our clients. This aspect is the use of 'heart'. An obvious contributor to the more emotionally focused tasks a health professional may perform such as psychotherapy - what role could 'heart' play in the work of a Dietitian?

As always if you are short on time scroll down to the Pavestone at the end..........happy reading!


The Essential Counselling Skills Workshop for APDs


Only 2 Spaces Left!

Closing in 4 days on October 1st

This is the only counselling skills training for post graduate Dietitians in Australia run by a dual qualified APD and Psychotherapist/Counsellor.

The workshop will be held in Sydney on October 9 & 10

For REGISTRATION and more info please click HERE

If you have any questions don't hesitate to email me.  

We should take care not to make intellect our god; it has powerful muscles but no personality'
Albert Einstein

'I suspect that the most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just Listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention. And especially if it is given from the heart. When people are talking, there's no need to do anything but receive them. Just take them in. Listen to what they are saying. Care about it. Most times caring about it is even more important than understanding it.'
Rachel Naomi Remen MD
......Hmmmm a challenging issue to write this one.

The first challenge: how to define the function of 'heart' in the listening process. 

The second challenge: keeping this exploration relevant to our work as Dietitians or any other health professional immersed in the objective medical model.


Defining 'Heart' in the Process of Tuning in

What do we mean when we refer to 'heart' in the listening process? This is open to many interpretations - all with merit. If we revisit the graphic from Issue 7, 'heart' is afforded the function of 'feeling' in the process of active listening:

In this sense we may consider that listening with heart could be defined as Empathic Listening - sensing into the emotional content of our client's communication.

I'd like to also suggest that an extension to the definition of 'heart' in the listening process could include 'body'. In this way we might use the word 'heart' as a proxy for the data within our Body's Felt Sensing  that we experience when we attend to our clients.

For some, the concept of Right Brain comes closer to defining 'heart' in tuning into our clients. In this sense Right Brain may be appreciated as offering the more fluid, creative, intuitive aspects of our connecting with our clients and the meaning making process. In Issue 9 I touched on this a little when considering our clients' verbal messages and pondered the idea of 'whole-brained' attention. You can have a revision here if this idea tweaks your interest.


Emotional Resonance may be another term preferred to define 'heart' in listening. Typically emotional resonance is a keenly embodied sense so this tends to be closely alligned with the body's felt sensing

All of these definitions have a place and it's likely you have your own unique way of defining your sense of 'heart' in your listening process.  I asked a colleague as I was researching this newsletter "What tells you that you are listening with heart?' The answer: 'I am more open......... less afraid'. Beautiful. Perhaps take a moment just now, to welcome your own knowing about the heart in listening as you read and reflect.



Appreciating the Role of 'Heart' in Listening
Philosophy, Science and Evidence

In many ways, the role the 'heart' plays in the process of attending to our clients is a paradoxical one.

..........Delicate and yet profoundly informative
..............Central and yet obscure
...........Providing intuitive aspects of logical process
..............Creating the felt meaning in the domain of hard data.

In my work as a Counsellor I have been taught again and again by my clients the value of appreciating paradox in understanding the human condition. Why would this not be true for any professional working with helping human beings? If the nature of our listening process reflects the nature of our reality - we gotta be doing something right!


But ........'What about EBP?' I hear you say! ....'aren't we getting a bit flaky?' Great questions.

The 'heart' aspect of listening sits central to the development of Empathy. Empathy is well established in the evidence base as an essential core component of the therapeutic alliance and the human change process. In Issue 4 The Power of Empathy in Effective Dietetic Counselling I explore the core attribute of empathy in greater detail and you are welcome to have a revision here. For those of you who like to get super geeky on evidence I can highly recommend The Mindful Therapist by Dr Daniel J Siegel for information about the neurobiology of human connection and resonance. Dr Siegel provides a fascinating exploration of the role of our mirror neurons and subcortical areas of our brain and body (including the heart) in the process of attunement and empathic resonance.

For those of you who like to go more Reader's Digest style, the science suggests:

When we are with another person and we really slow down and pay attention to that other person, something happens in our brain.  This connects to stuff in our body. Then there is this cool connection between the two brains and bodies; theirs and ours. Then both people form this wired 'whole' and change stuff happens because we are social creatures and something about connecting makes us feel better. Mmmmmmmmm Better

With sincere apologies to Dr Siegel.

And thanks to Homer 


.....Simpson that is.


What Data does Listening with  'Heart' Contribute to
Understanding our Clients?

Following on from the appreciation of the definition and role of 'heart' in tuning into our clients it makes sense that 'heart' contributes data to the listening process that is very hard to define! The esteemed Philosopher and Psychologist Gene Gendlin's work based on extensive empirical research, has gone a long way to help us understand this. This definition of felt sense borrows heavily from his work:
 'It is a special kind of embodied awareness that the conscious mind might initially find hard to articulate'

This data or embodied awareness may appear as an image, texture, sound, word, temperature, physical sensation or feeling state...........or unique combination of any of these elements

Let's consider some examples:

An elderly client is sharing with you his isolation since the death of his spouse and how this has been making it hard for him to cope with his activities of daily living. As you listen, appreciating the effect of this on his eating, you become aware of a dense feeling in your chest and visual image as you breath quietly alongside him. It says to you something about 'sadness'


A client is sharing for the first time her experiences of bingeing and purging. She reflects on how hard it is to talk about this with you. As you listen, you become aware of a tension in your throat, like a squeezing tightness. It s reminiscent of when you yourself find speaking hard. It says something to you about 'relax, go gently'


A teenage client and her mother are sharing a session and the mother is talking very punitively about her daughter's eating habits and inability to lose weight. There is an awkward pause in the conversation and in the silence you hear a sound in your inner ear ...........a something that says : 'pain'


A client has been working with you for about 6 months on her emotional eating and yo-yo dieting and is telling you stories about experiencing her satiety signal for the first time in years.  The flow of her stories, the relief and spontaneity in her voice, a certain 'newness' about her appears as a 'season' or climate in you. It says something about the nature of her change:



To bring this exploration together, no matter what you call it: heart, body, felt sense, 'feeling' resonance or right brain, what we know is that when we fully attend to another human being, there is a connection that happens on a biological level providing data outside of a 'reasoned intentional logic' . This connection is integral to effective, empathic helping work.
'Here is my secret. It is very simple:
It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye'

Le Petit Prince (1943) Antoine de Saint Exupéry


The soundtrack for this issue has been chosen to offer some practice for 'listening with heart'. It is the stunning Agnus Dei by Samuel Barber. If you have 8 minutes to spare you might like to sit comfortably in your chair and just notice and welcome what comes to say hello in you as you tune in. You can start when you are ready by clicking HERE

Issue 10: The 'Heart' of Listening 

Nutrition is a science. Eating is a behaviour.

Behaviour change is difficult.

Active Listening is a fundamental skill, core to the process of understanding our client's experience, inviting their trust and building the helping alliance

Active Listening is only possible when we truly attend to our clients. Attending may be thought of as our 'whole-hearted' and 'whole-brained' attention

When we attend to our clients we pay attention to both their verbal and non-verbal messages, our own embodied resonances and our thinking processes.

The heart may be considered as synonymous with body, intuition, resonance, right brain and felt sense in its contribution to our 'tuning in' process

These embodied resonances can contribute data that is not collected by logical reasoned process but evidence suggests is neurobiological in origin. 

This data may appear as an image, texture, sound, temperature, physical sensation or feeling state and may be at first difficult for the conscious brain to articulate

The data collected by tuning in with 'heart' forms and essential aspect of empathy with our clients' experiences.

Suggestions for Reflection

How is this newsletter issue sitting in me now? Has it landed easily or is there some hesitancy about thinking of my client engagement this way?

How would I be comfortable to work with my heart, body, intuition or 'right brain' in developing my listening skill? 

I'd love to hear your thoughts, curiosities, insights. Please email me to let me know.

Enjoy experimenting!
Keep reflecting!


Archives of Previous Newsletters

Full collection Issues 1-9 available HERE

Call for a Senate Enquiry into the sale and advertising of weight loss products

Sign the Petition HERE!

This petition requests urgent action regarding the “Weight Loss Services Industry” to protect the people of Australia. Specifically, an independent inquiry is proposed into the advertising and sale of weight loss products and supplements. Consumers have the right not to be misled or harmed.

Please consider your ethical stance on these products and the weight cycling and harm they can cause both physiologically and psychologically


Weight Stigma Awareness Week Sept 22-26 2014

A great blog hosted by ASDAH for Weight Stigma Awareness week can be accessed Here.  Have a read and press 'refresh' on the concept of fatness as a disease.

Read more great information about Weight Stigma Awareness week Here
Feeling a bit overwhelmed?
Ever thought about Supervision? ..........or up-skilling with some counselling skills training?
One of the most effective ways to enhance your learning and adoption of new skills is to receive supervision/mentoring for your work. If you would like to learn more about this you are welcome to have a look at my my service. Why not consider sharing supervision with a colleague and practice together between sessions?
Don't forget to consider my training - registrations close September 9 for this round.
About Tara MacGregor
Tara MacGregor is a dual qualified Accredited Practising Dietitian and Counsellor & Psychotherapist in private practice. Graduating from Sydney University in 1991 she has worked in a broad spectrum of clinical areas in public and private hospitals until specialising in disordered eating in 2004. Tara works exclusively in the non-diet paradigm and is passionate about teaching and promoting the Health At Every Size (R) philosophy. Tara provides skills training and mentoring in the form of clinical supervision for Dietitians and enjoys tremendously the exciting opportunities, insights and growth this offers both herself and supervisees.

Make an enquiry about supervision and mentoring with Tara

Make an enquiry about supervision and mentoring with Tara

Tara MacGregor PACFA Reg. 21520 BSc MSc H.Nut & Diet. G.Dip Couns

Counsellor & Psychotherapist Accredited Practising Dietitian

Suite 3, 780a Pacific Highway Gordon NSW 2072
M 0459 991 788
Copyright © 2014 Tara MacGregor, All rights reserved.

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