Why does my counsellor stay silent?
This series will be addressing some weird and wonderful things your counsellor does that might seem strange but you didn’t want to ask about.
Week 1 tackles the issue of "awkward silence" in the counselling room.
Below is an example of a counselling interraction as spoken by a client reviewing how they felt in session. This is a fictional example to illustrate what can arise.
WHY DON'T YOU JUST SAY SOMETHING!!?!
It's 2015 and I'm in my therapist's office. I've just pored my heart out to her, shared things never before spoken, entrusted her with my deepest darkest thoughts. Now she's just staring at me... silent.
The overthinker in my brain starts to pipe up... "Well, that's it, you've even shocked your counsellor in to silence. She doesn't know what to do with you!". The critic inside me starts to say "This counsellor isn't very good, she can't even think of anything to help you!".
So I ask her..."Why aren't you saying anything? Is it as bad as I thought?"
"What would you like me to say?" she asks, earnestly.
"Well, I don't know, something that will help me? Something comforting." I reply.
She holds my gaze, kindly, unflinching. A feeling starts to rise, an overwhelming sense of frustration. I start to cry. "If the tears could speak, what would they be saying?" She quietly asks in a soft voice.
"They would say you don't care, that you can't help me, and that I'm alone with this. That you can't fix it. Can't fix me."
This tapped in to the very core of what I had been telling her about. I felt overlooked as a child, unwanted in a big family. My problems were trivial and insignificant, and no one had time for me. As an adult I felt like my feelings didn't matter too.
Sometimes in therapy, your counsellor will stay quiet, but rarely is it because they are lost for words, or shocked in to silence. In the example above, the silence gave space for feelings to arise and be addressed that would have otherwise stayed below the surface. The client was frustrated, and showed a need to be cared for. By claiming the space, and declaring what they needed, they will have started to reverse some of the pain from childhood, by being able to ask for their needs to be met.
I asked my colleagues at the Muswell Hill Counselling Group to name some reasons for using silence in therapy, and here's what they said:
"It's helpful to explore what happens to the client's thoughts in the silence. Does the client fill in the silence with their thoughts of insecurities, frustrations and anger?"
"We don't always rescue from awkwardness in the counselling room. Growth and empowerment can happen from the client claiming the space"
"Questions that can bring up the underlying issues include: 'How comfortable are you with silence? How does it feel to be silent?' "
If you do feel your counsellor is using silence in the wrong way, then it is important that you feel safe enough to tell them. Any ethical counsellor receiving such feedback will be able to work with it and improve their provision and understanding of your needs.
What are your thoughts on silence int he counselling room? Please comment below.
If you think of any you would like me to answer, get in touch and I will address it here.
Laura Mole Adv.Dip (MBACP) is an Integrative Counsellor working with the Muswell Hill Counselling Group.