Mental Health

What is ‘generous listening’ and how can it help communities heal after a disaster?

Group of women talk and support each other; generous listening.

Generous listening can help people – and communities – with long-term recovery from disasters. Image: Unsplash/priscilladupreez

Vuslat Doğan Sabancı
Founder, Vuslat Foundation
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Mental Health

  • Communities often receive immediate relief after an earthquake, flood or other disaster hits, but long-term support is also crucial to the healing process.
  • ‘Generous listening’ provides support but also a place for people to talk about their trauma.
  • This kind of approach helps people feel heard and participants in generous listening group sessions often go on to use it to help their families and other community organisations as well.

Earthquakes, floods and other disasters leave behind a trail of destruction. And while affected areas might receive immediate support and relief from international and non-governmental organizations or businesses, the long-lasting psychological impact of a disaster on people and communities is often overlooked. These hidden effects of trauma are profound and enduring, even though they may not be easily seen.

Generous listening can be a helpful tool to help address the longer term effects of trauma on a community after a disaster. It is fundamentally different from therapy or counselling because it doesn't involve guidance or problem-solving. Instead, generous listening creates a space where individuals can freely express themselves without any intervention.

The focus is on empowerment, building community ties, resilience and cultivating connections in a world where people often feel isolated. This creates a sense of belonging within the community, similar to long-standing groups like Compassionate Friends and Alcoholics Anonymous.

That’s why generous listening is extremely important for instilling hope, building trust, promoting shared values and fostering harmonious living.

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The Vuslat Foundation, a global initiative to champion the benefits of generous listening, has established Generous Listening Emotional Support Groups to recognise the neglected aspects of disaster recovery. It supports rebuilding efforts by addressing deep-rooted trauma in communities. This initiative specifically targets women in earthquake-affected regions of Türkiye, using support to help the healing process.

Generous listening offers scalable practices that can be adapted to different situations. This skill is essential for navigating crises or traumatic events such as wars, natural disasters or displacement due to climate change. This means that this approach to helping to restore lives and communities can set an example for disaster recovery efforts anywhere in the world.

Its strength lies in its multi-faceted implementation. The groups collaborate with diverse organizations such as local NGOs, community leaders and women's cooperatives, empower survivors to become active participants and also facilitate the dissemination of generous listening techniques within communities. The process starts among women but extends to their personal relationships and into community structures.

Infographic showing how to establish generous listening programmes, and the resulting benefits.
Generous listening can help communities to come together and heal after a crisis. Image: Vuslat Foundation

Understanding people’s trauma

Generous listening is more than just a method; it’s a lifeline offered to individuals who are struggling with the consequences of trauma. It embodies the act of engaging profoundly, ensuring that people are not just heard but genuinely listened to and understood.

In this way, generous listening transforms communication. It involves paying attention to someone and investing time and genuine interest in understanding their thoughts and emotions. This fosters a kind of healing where being truly listened to equates to feeling seen and valued. As the participants describe it, generous listening allows them to listen without interruption and creates a space where they can authentically share their feelings.

Sessions are led by trained psychologists and a facilitator for up to 12 participants. The facilitators support the transformative process by navigating the dynamics of the group environment, while also adapting to each participant's experiences and motivations. Their main objective is to create a nurturing setting, where people can freely express their thoughts and feelings, but also listen both to others and themselves.

The practice of generous listening has brought about changes in participants, including an improvement in their listening skills, empathy and communication style. When these women come together to share their experiences related to trauma, it fosters trust and a sense of belonging. The format not only encourages dialogue but also ensures inclusivity and empathy during discussions. This is vital for healing and building community.

Stories of personal healing

The stories shared with us by participants underscore the impact of these groups. Members of our generous listening groups tell us that this approach helps them express themselves in a secure space, free from judgment or criticism. One participant, M, that shared her journey with us said she went from feeling isolated and vulnerable to discovering a renewed sense of purpose and belonging within these groups.

Another participant, N, told us that self-care has become more important to her after her experience with generous listening, and that communication within her family and community has significantly improved. This shift towards listening not only helps with personal healing but also strengthens bonds within the community, fostering resilience in the face of challenges.

The long-term effects of this initiative are also remarkable. Participants tell us that they continue to practice generous listening in their lives, which improves their relationships and interactions with others. This change is particularly evident in family contexts, where participants note a generous listening approach with their children helps to strengthen their relationships.

Our Generous Listening Emotional Support Groups offer a framework for addressing the impact of trauma. By placing an emphasis on generous listening, initiatives like ours can not only aid individual healing, but also play a crucial role in rebuilding trust within communities. After a disaster, generous listening can provide the support a community desperately needs to help foster resilience and strength during times of adversity.

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Related topics:
Mental HealthExtreme Weather EventsClimate Change
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