I had a client tell me the other day that she sat in silence with a therapist for four sessions before she finally called it quits. Silence is a tool that many therapists use to draw a client out. It’s a powerful method, and needs to be used carefully and with close attention and compassion. Giving someone space to arrange their thoughts is necessary and useful. Pushing that silence a little further will cause discomfort. The discomfort can sometimes be the catalyst the client needs to disclose things that might otherwise go unsaid.
But there’s a limit
We don’t generally do silence very well in our culture. We like to fill it in any way we can. In a therapy session, giving a little space allows the client to make the first move, or elaborate on a topic.
Leaving a client sitting in silence for too long becomes a power play, and that has no place in the therapeutic relationship.
It’s unnatural and scary for our clients. By remaining too quiet, we prevent the client from feeling into who we are as fellow humans. As I’ve written about before, if they can’t feel us, why would they want to share their sacred stuff with us?
I don’t hide behind silence in my sessions, because I don’t feel that it’s an ethical approach to therapy. I also belive that good therapy is a conversation, not an interrogation. If we’re paying attention, we can feel the moment that the silence turns from a gift being offered into a weapon being yielded. Being able to feel when that moment is approaching, and heading it off before it arrives, can make all the difference.