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The Art of Listening Can Reduce Stress as You Adjust to a Spinal Cord Injury

By Jill Koval, Ph.D.
Director, Psychological Services, Shepherd Center Inpatient Spinal Cord Injury Program

As spring unfolds, what do you hear? One of the key indicators of spring is the chirping of birds! As loud as they can be, sometimes if we are busy or preoccupied, we don’t hear things that are going on around us or even said directly to us. There truly is an art to listening.

The ability to listen forms the foundation of effective communication – the communication of information, feelings, needs and wishes. Ineffective listening can result in conflict, misunderstandings, disappointment and resentment.

After spinal cord injury, listening well becomes even more important as families adjust to changes and new challenges. Communication is key.

Here are some ways that you can actively listen:

  • Pick a time to talk that is more conducive to success. The end of a long day is usually not the best time.
  • Reduce distractions, such as television and electronic devices.
  • Make eye contact.
  • Take turns making sure you are hearing and being heard. Ask the other person to repeat what you’ve said. For example, “What I heard you say is ______________.”
  • Do not think of your response while the other person is still talking.
  • Do not interrupt the other person.
  • Ask for clarification if you are confused or unclear about what is being said.
  • Be as clear and direct as possible in what you say.
  • Remember that other people don’t know how you feel or think if you don’t tell them.

Practice, practice, practice! Use active listening consistently, not just to deal with negative thoughts, emotions or issues.Give it a try! More effective listening leads to improved communication, which will directly reduce the stress of dealing withspinal cord injury and all the changes that come with it.

For more information on psychological services available at Shepherd Center, you may call 404-350-7553.

JILL KOVAL, Ph.D., is the director of psychological services in the Spinal Cord Injury Inpatient Program at Shepherd Center in Atlanta. She has worked at Shepherd Center since 1989. Dr. Koval has a doctorate in psyhcology from George Washington University. You may reach her at

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neurological conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 740 inpatients, nearly 280 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.