824 THE ADVOCATE
VOL. 78 PART 6 NOVEMBER 2020
makers should also be skilled in empathetic listening techniques. These techniques
involve repeating back to a witness what he or she has just said. This
affirms that the panel member is listening to them and understands them.
The use of distraction (a common way of assisting persons with dementia to
veer away from painful delusions) is also a helpful technique to guide a person
with a mental disorder away from rambling, irrelevant testimony toward
focusing on evidence relevant to the statutory criteria for detention.
It is not uncommon for applicants seeking review of detention orders to
become agitated and upset during a hearing, whether an in-person hearing
or a teleconference. This often happens when an applicant hears a facility
case presenter, usually their treating psychiatrist, give evidence about the
applicant’s behaviours in support of an expert opinion that the applicant
has a mental disorder seriously impacting day-to-day function.
It is painful to hear a recitation describing one’s behaviour as inappropriate
and disordered. It hurts. Applicants may start to protest, cry and even
start to go out of control, heading toward yelling and screaming fits. Voice
communication alone can effectively stop the pain and help an applicant
gain control of their emotions.
One technique to calm a participant who is starting to get out of control
and is interrupting the testimony of another witness is to distract the person
from their thoughts and direct them to focus elsewhere. It is a helpful strategy
for the decision maker to “paint a verbal picture” for an upset person,
telling them about the decision maker(s) and what they are doing, then and
there, in the proceeding. Try repeating key phrases, such as “I am listening
to you and writing down what you say” or (in a telephone hearing) “I have
a pen in my right hand and a piece of paper in front of me. I am listening
to you and writing down what you say.”
Repeating such phrases to a witness, in a calm, firm, steady voice, often
seems to have a positive effect on the person. The witness refocuses their
attention on the speaker, envisioning the “painted verbal picture”. The witness,
in effect, self-distracts into a calmer state. Then, the panel chair can
employ techniques of “seeding verbal suggestions” (again, akin to Erickson’s
hypnotic techniques). A panel chair can firmly and calmly explain:
This is hard, I know. It is difficult to listen to these things Dr. J is saying.
Right now, it is Dr. J’s turn to speak, so we all have to be fair and let him
Very, very soon, Dr. J will finish speaking. Then it will be your turn to
We will all listen to you when you speak and I will be writing down what
you say. I have a pen in my right hand and paper in front of me on a table
and I am writing down what everyone says in this hearing.