Listening genius: the work of John Heimler
No understanding of the power of listening is complete without appreciating the work of Eugene – John – Heimler, a truly great listener and founder of a counselling method known as Human Social Functioning. Carl Rogers was perhaps one of the best known ‘listeners’ of the 20th Century. John Heimler is less well known, similar and yet different. It is the work of John Heimler which forms the basis of the Listening Skills Training for teachers that is taught by Consilium Education and the Motivated Learning Trust.
I was privileged to have known John and to have had him as my therapist whilst in training.
To hell and back
Eugene Heimler was born in Hungary in 1922. His further education was cut short by the Nazis in 1944 when he was deported to the concentration camps. He heard of the death of his young wife Eva on a scribbled note pushed through the barbed war between the women’s and men’s camps at Auschwitz. John survived the camps and managed to get back to Hungary and became a journalist. His liberal views attracted notice by the authorities and he had to escape again. He went to the United Kingdom where he became a psychiatric social worker. Dissatisfied with psychoanalytical methods and theory for working with his clients in the community, John gradually developed his own methods which, in a nutshell, put the client at the centre of the treatment rather than relying on interpretation.
John further developed his methods as he worked with the long term unemployed, and developed a powerful analytical tool, called the Heimler Scale of Social Functioning which enables clients to get to the core of their problems much more quickly. John taught his methods in the USA, Canada and several European countries as well as the UK and continued as a teacher and counsellor until his death in 1990.
Human Social Functioning (HSF)
In HSF, the therapist is taught to listen in depth, rather than hear and interpret, and thus is more likely genuinely to share the other’s world. For many people this is the best form of help that could be given.
The underlying ethos that “the client knows best” enables the therapist to support individuals to make their own choices within their own framework of understanding. The expertise of this approach lies in being a genuine and effective listener rather than providing an alternative framework in which to understand people’s problems.
For the listening process to be effective a structure is helpful to both participants. The stages of this can be identified, quickly learned and readily applied and usually finishes with the ‘client’ making an action plan. It is this structure that is the major difference between Rogers and Heimler and is readily learnable by teachers for work with students and getting them to find their own best way forward. It is this that makes it much more motivating than being told what to do.