Reflection of feeling and content


Reflection of feeling and content

Reflection of feeling and content

This micro-skill (reflection of feeling and content) is very useful in conversation. The person speaking (about problems/issues) will more likely feel validated and heard. A person with depression might say something like “I feel like just sleeping or doing nothing but I can’t sleep at night though. It’s ridiculous. Maybe it’s because I worry too much”. The first part of this statement focuses on the person’s feelings (I feel like sleeping or doing nothing) and the rest focuses on content of what this person is saying (I can’t sleep; maybe I worry too much). This would give the listener a chance to acknowledge this person by both demonstrating that the listener is hearing how the person is feeling and also showing that the listener is following what the person is talking about. Therefore, a response using reflection of feeling and content could be: “You’re feeling really lethargic, but you can’t sleep”.   The listener does not or should not repeat every word but rather try to put it in a compact version of the listener’s own words (what the person is saying, but in the listener’s words and in a reduced amount of words, otherwise known as paraphrasing). The listener should identify the main feelings and the main content and reflect or “bounce” this back to the person speaking. Therefore, the speaker will not only feel acknowledged, but it can help that person to keep talking; to keep venting their feelings, their pain, their frustration, and anything that may be “eating away” at them on the inside and so-forth. By releasing or externalizing thoughts and feelings, it can be very therapeutic and calming on the person and it can help enable the person to advance or come to terms with their problems better.

Reflection of feeling and content

Reflection of feeling and content is an important active listening skill.


By keeping thoughts and feelings inside or internally, it can be very detrimental and according to humanistic or person-centred theories, externalizing our thoughts and feelings is absolutely crucial in our healing of various presenting problems in life such as anxiety. It helps us to become aware of ourselves and how we can cope better. Nevertheless, theories have different philosophies and it is generally recognised that regardless of any specific type of theory or therapy applied to a person with mental health problems, the use of reflection of feeling and content can help enable the person to feel heard and acknowledged and can help the person substantially to disclose further information (feelings and so-forth) which helps to maintain open communication which can be a valuable asset when coming to dealing with mental health problems such as depression, anxiety disorders or indeed any other disorder that humans are subjected to.

A warning or danger though in using too much (or continual reflection of feeling and content) is that basically it could end up being what some people may describe as a ‘self-pity’ session.  Or, it may just end up with the person talking about feelings and problems in where this is initially very important, but (arguably) also so is confronting problems and deciding on action-plans as to how to deal with the problems.

Another example of how to use reflection of feeling and content could be: Speaker: “I feel quite proud of myself that I managed to go to my support group that you suggested. I actually had a good time and everybody seemed to get something positive out of it. I feel like I have achieved something”. Listener: “You’re feeling really good about yourself for not only going but also how it went”.

Or another example could be: speaker: “Oh, I know my wife has depression, but she doesn’t do anything at all! Nothing! She doesn’t even do the washing up now. Oh, I can’t stand it! She used to be so full of life and she was always so clean around the house; so conscientious. What’s gone wrong? How could she change THIS much? I have to do more and more and more now. I feel like I’M going to burst!”.

Listener: It sounds like you’re feeling at the end of your tether and it seems you’ve got more and more to do”.

The speaker will feel (or should be helped to feel) heard and s/he will be likely to describe further information such as by perhaps something like (in relation to the above dialogue) “yeah, I’m finding it hard at work too because of my promotion. I have more responsibilities…………..”. This will help the speaker to “get some things off his chest”. It is not meant to minimise or ignore the original problem (that being depression in the above situation and how it is affecting this man’s life and relationship with his wife), but to help the speaker to talk about other things which may also be important and to help the speaker feel heard and validated. By looking at the whole picture in many problems, we can start to access many different avenues or ways of approaching how and what we might do about our problems. Further communication skills can continuously be applied while listening and interacting with the speaker and other such communication or micro-skills can include:

* Questioning.

* Summarizing.

* Normalizing (and more).

Reflection of feeling and content along with paraphrasing and other skills can all be used together in the midst of a conversation. However, such skills take practice (and perhaps much practice) and communication methods or ways of helping others are a specialist skill that properly trained therapists develop. A decent therapist will be able to demonstrate true empathy and the like and skills such as normalising and appropriate questioning and confronting would generally be better or more skillfully applied by a professional worker such as a properly trained counsellor or psychologist. However, anybody can practice and use basic communication skills and it is worth putting these skills into practice whether we are talking to a person with depression, another mental health problem or many other topics in life.

Thank you for visiting Beyond My Label, and hoping you found this article helpful.


Egan, G. (2014). The Skilled Helper (10th ed.). Belmont, California, USA: Brooks/Cole

Ashby Allan Institute, 2005.

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