Silence is golden?

Essential Silence

The success of counselling may depend largely on what happens between counsellor and client – what is talked about, what is discovered in the exploration, the new reflections and insights that emerge. So what if you arrive at a counselling session and don’t know what to say?

The feeling of not having anything to say is surprisingly common in counselling. When you meet the counsellor week after week, for fifty minutes, those minutes can soon start to feel very long. After some time you might feel you have exhausted all topics of interest – said everything that you needed to say. Certain counsellors will work to fill the gaps in the conversation, others will sit back and let the space develop.

Many counsellors, particularly those in the person centred tradition, tend to believe the client who comes to counselling already has everything they need to succeed, so interventions from the counsellor’s side can be minimal. If it feels like you are coming to the end of a conversational road, the counsellor practicing this approach probably won’t mind, since the client should have enough wisdom to find their way forward. A person centred counsellor can assist a client with some signposting if the way ahead is especially dark and badly lit – but it is not seen as the counsellor’s job to do all the work.

Silence is uncomfortable for many of us. When it occurs in counselling it can feel unwelcome, taking up time and space that might be better spent on finding solutions to the initial problem. Few counsellors will deliberately leave a client suffering in silence for long stretches of time, but for most, a few minutes of silence might be seen as valuable to the work itself. Is not having anything to say right now so bad? Can you be ok just sitting with that? Is it ok to just be for a while – rather than continuously searching for things to say, to fix this present discomfort? These are questions a reflective counsellor will be asking themselves and, potentially, you.

The cliché says that a relationship is going well if you can sit with your partner in comfortable silence. In counselling, silence doesn’t have to be comfortable, just as a session full of talking doesn’t have to be comfortable. The therapeutic relationship might serve you just as well if it lets you approach and explore discomfort from time to time. In such moments you have the opportunity to find out why saying nothing is so uncomfortable. In time, then, perhaps, you learn to get comfortable with the quiet moments or hours where tangible progress and fixes aren’t always presenting themselves.

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