It may seem strange that a practice that is ingrained in talking and expression, would bring “silence” into play. Psychotherapy is referred to as “talk therapy” by most and it sounds uncomfortable to have to sit in silence in a space where you have to share.
However, anyone who has participated in a therapy session, or a therapist would know that “silence” has a big part in conducting a holistic therapy session.
Silence is a powerful tool that allows the therapist to bring out the full potential of the therapy.
A few reasons why silence is experienced in therapy could be:
when the therapist is trying to hold the space for reflection for the client
Help the therapist convey empathy
Collect one’s thoughts before responding (for both client and therapy)
Allow clients to take responsibility for what they are sharing
Most of the time, silence is seen to follow an overwhelming conversation, where heavy information has been shared or the client needs time to process all the inputs given by the therapist. Having the client sit in silence where they can reflect and use the time to also let things out in a free-flowing manner can be of enormous help. One could say it helps sort through the noise of outside opinions.
For anyone who has been in therapy, would have varied responses regarding the silence. Some would find it comforting, some would find it stressful while others would feel like it provides a meaningful pause. All these are relevant and important to the practice of psychotherapy.
One interesting piece of information about this is that you would not experience silence in the first few sessions of therapy. Why? More so because in those spaces, both the client and therapist are actively engaging in building a sustainable, professional relationship. Silence is sacred, and it’s something that is built upon with the cooperation of the client. If a client is dealing with anxiety, the therapist would inform them about this technique to not confuse them or put them in an uncomfortable that would lead to negative outcomes. At the same time, depending on the client’s way of expressing themself, the therapist can use silence as a tool to learn more about the goals that they are working with.
Silence is important but, is not a necessity in therapy. Therapists too gauge how to and if they have to, use this. Additionally, therapists typically use silence more frequently with specific clients. Some therapists note that it is a more effective tool with higher functioning clients, finding it less helpful or even harmful with psychotic, highly anxious, or angry clients (Valle, 2019).
As a client, dealing with silence can be awkward. And that is absolutely normal. Your therapist will be patient with you in the process. You can always ask questions about it or understand why it is beneficial in the session. We do tend to try and fill up the silence many times. This doesn’t mean you should be too careful about what you say or think in a therapy session, rather, let yourself go and check with your own self what the thoughts and feelings could mean.
In therapy, silence is much more than the absence of talking.
It is one of the foundational elements of making treatment work.
If you’re someone who expresses a lot, that too is okay as long as there is purpose. If you feel like you are trying to fill the gaps with random thoughts, how about you practice silence in your personal life? See how that impacts you, and you’re processing. This newfound experience or skill can then be translated into growth and self-preservation.