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Listening and responding
Now that you have set the tone, how do you continue to ensure this is a meaningful and beneficial conversation?
Jo: Welcome back!
Liv: No matter what the young person’s goals are for the meeting, one of the key skills to use is active listening.
Stuart: Young people describe this as listening to understand and not to respond, doing your best to take in what the young person is saying, and not attaching your own judgement or opinion to their situation.
Jo: We often don’t want advice right away. We’d much rather you listen and try to understand what we’re going through, asking questions when you need further clarification.
Liv: You don’t need to try and fix us. Just be alongside us, and listen to us and support us. You don’t necessarily have to change the situation that we’re in.
Stuart: We understand that what you can actually provide for us is often limited, but offering genuine interest, and listening fully, can remind us that we’re worthy of help.
Jo: You don’t necessarily need to relate to what we’re going through. You may not have experienced what we’ve been through. We don’t expect any differently, and actually, it’s more frustrating if you pretend to relate, when actually you don’t.
Liv: It can also be really validating when you acknowledge that you don’t know what it’s like, but that it does sound really challenging.
Stuart: If we’re having a hard time opening up, hesitant, or unsure, here’s some helpful phrases directly from young people, which might help:
Jo: “Take all the time you need, I’ll be here to listen.”
Liv: “You’re not under any pressure, and I’m not going to leave until you’re ready.”
Stuart: “You are not alone.”
Jo: “I’m here to listen, and understand, and care for you.”
Liv: Saying simple things, like, “I’m glad you called tonight,” can be really validating, even when the conversation feels really difficult. Say, “I’m here to listen and support you.”
Stuart: Reminding us that we don’t need to say or share everything all at once, can make us feel more comfortable, and allow us to take our time. Remind us that it does matter, and it is important we are heard.
Jo: When responding to something that a young person shared, make sure that you make it clear that you were listening. Don’t simply ask questions from a tick-box list. This feels robotic and scripted. Talk to them about what they’ve said, showing genuine interest and care. Show in your response that you are interested, listening, and want to know more, in order to provide the best support.
Liv: Using overly complex or medical language is not helpful, unless the young person has
been using that language already. Try to level in terms of language used, because if a young person doesn’t use that language, it can be quite unpleasant for them to hear.
Stuart: You can also show appreciation for them opening up and sharing with you. Let them know that you understand how hard it is to share, and that you’re happy they felt comfortable enough to open up to you.
Jo: Validate what they have told you. If something sounds really difficult or hard to manage, say that! It can be extremely helpful to have our experiences understood, and our emotions and perspectives validated.
Liv: Make them feel that it’s okay to cry and be upset, and you’ll still be there to listen and provide support. Accept that young people have flaws, we all do, but remind them they are more than their flaws. Humanise them, and make them feel valued.
Stuart: We hope that by sharing these perspectives and advice, directly from young people, we help open up meaningful conversation and positive experiences, for both you and the young people you see.
We would much rather you actively listen, listen to try and understand what’s going on with no judgement and ask questions when you need clarification.
You don’t need to try and fix things, just be along with us to listen and support, not necessarily to change the situation we’re in.
Validation and appreciation also shows that you are listening and understanding what we are saying. If something sounds difficult or hard to manage, you can say that. You are not expected to always relate to what we are going through, but empathising can go a long way.
Thank the young person for opening up to you and what they have told you.
A re-cap of some of the phrases to use when a young person appears or sounds hesitant or unsure about opening up:
“Take all the time you need – I’ll be here to listen’
‘You’re not under any pressure, and I’m not going to leave until you’re ready’
‘You’re not alone’
‘I’m here to listen and understand and care for you’
‘I’m glad you called tonight’
Avoid using jargon, which might be common in your department – unless we are already using the language – try to level with us.
Lastly, let us know that it is okay to cry and be upset, and that you will still be there to listen and provide support.
Are there any additional phrases you that you have found helpful when a young person appears hesitant? How can you let a young person know that you’re listening, when online or the phone?