This is an excerpt from "A Clinical Perspective Affected by an Educational Point of View", part 1 of "Listening of Production", a 3-part essay by Paula Chieffi, PhD of Stillpoint Spaces Zürich, published in June on Stillpoint Spaces' International Digital Publication. 

As a psychologist and educator, in my doctoral research I was faced with the challenge of writing about some of the ways clinical practice interfaces and interferes with education. With this, I shifted the clinical practice from its traditional encounter in the clinic to another field, one already consolidated with its own norms, and unique ways of working and thinking. As interesting as the effects of this shift can be to the educational field, what interests me in this text is to think of what this shift brought to the clinical field: like tending to  one’s house after returning from a long trip.

The first movement to which I dedicated myself and my research was to understand or, perhaps, imagine, what would be the fundamental attitude of the clinical practice. I turned to the beginnings of psychoanalysis and came across its initial definition as the talking cure. I do not entirely disagree with such a definition, but it does not fully encompass the clinical practice that I intend to evoke, which contains a methodological principal towards the other (the invitation for the patient to speak freely) rather than a basic bodily attitude of the therapist. Nevertheless, it was from this definition that I came to what I consider to be the extract of the clinical practice. Because, if there is a talking cure, it is necessary to imagine a position that sustains the talking, something that precedes its own enunciation or that makes it possible. This attitude, present in all clinical encounters, is clinical listening –  a practice perceived only by its effects, which leads us to think that the listening speaks. A silent action that renders possible the production of a conversational field where words that give meaning to experiences – sometimes traumatic, others excessive or even, meaningless  – can be inscribed.

After defining the listening as the basic attitude of the clinical practice, it was important to clarify the difference of clinical listening from other types – after all, we all listen (even people who present some hearing dysfunction are able to perceive vibrations and decodify them). What is particular to clinical listening is that it is not evaluative, from a moral point of view. Instead, it is characterized as an ethical way of following processes, words, pauses, gestures, silences. Another particular characteristic is that of non-interdiction, except in extreme cases, where the behavior accompanied may be life-threatening to  those involved. In this sense, if the philosopher is the one who understands all, the psychologist is the one who listens to all – memories, narratives, gaps, jokes, dreams, seemingly meaningless ideas, morally marginalized or inadequate topics, unthinkable things, movie plots, fictional characters, everything that can affect the human can be listened to and, to the extent that it appears in treatment, is a matter clinical work.

When thinking about what is particular about clinical listening, I was led to take a step back in the attempt to understand how clinical listening as it exists today was engendered through history. This was an extensive area of research, and I point here to just a few ideas that I consider particularly important for this discussion. The first concerns something characteristic of any human manifestation, but I mention  it here regarding listening. It is not possible to think of general listening, since it is an experience that varies in time and space. We can imagine that the listening capabilities of an indigenous yanomami are completely different from those of a metropole inhabitant; similarly, the listening to proposals for the functioning of a city/society in Ancient Greece differs totally from the private way of listening to a religious confession at the beginning of Catholicism. With this, I want to highlight that the clinical listening we experience today was modulated throughout history and will continue to unfold and differentiate itself for as long as it exists (just think of the current listening configurations mediated by virtual devices for example).

We have always listened. Even before we had the eyes to see or the mouth to try, it was already possible to listen to sounds— aquatic, distant and distorted, from within our mother’s bellies. In general, we relate listening to our ears:  a small structure in the shape of a funnel that functions as a small seismograph. It is able to record vibrations from the world around us, and transmit them to the central nervous system that then turns them into codes and sounds, offering us an existential sonorous landscape or an environment that may be either familiar, or may indicate some imminent danger. All this without resorting to any rationality or consciousness. We listen with the whole body and with everything that the body brings.

Read the rest of part 1 here