Silence speaks volumes

by | 6 February 2024

Sitting in awkward silence with a total stranger. Does this image put you off therapy?

As in any relationship with others, silence is a key part of what happens in therapy. But rest assured, it’s not really used at the start. Silence can amplify anxiety, and lots of people start therapy feeling really anxious or with fears of being judged. It’s hard to think if you’re frozen like a rabbit in the headlights, so therapists will usually do their best to help you feel at ease. At this stage, silence won’t do this.

But like other kinds of relationships, comfort and trust develop, and then silence can play a part. In fact, it’s an active tool of therapy. Some therapists use silence more than others, but it’s unlikely to be absent. And there’s no need to fear it.

Silence is not meaningless. Clumsy and awkward, dripping with sadness, simmering with anger, curled up in shame, nourishingly present, these are seams of rich therapeutic potential in therapy.

Silence can serve as a structure. How often do we get to pause in our busy lives and take time to think? For anything to grow, it needs space, an invitation to reflect. Sitting in companionable silence with another can enable new insights to emerge. It creates space for realisation and moments of brilliant revelation.

Silence also amplifies a theme. It turns up the spotlight and makes it possible to go deeper into it. Or it can draw a line and say, “That’s finished”, creating space for a new topic to emerge.

There is no need to fill silence. If it feels awkward, you can say so.

Silence can reveal unhealthy beliefs

Silence amplifies a theme

Some people rarely experience silence in the presence of another. They are missing out on an opportunity for intimacy. Exploring silence can help highlight some of the barriers to closeness. Maybe a fear of judgement, perhaps a sense of apprehension? Dwelling on silence can reveal some of the unhealthy beliefs that prevent us from being as close to others as we’d like.

If you’ve not had therapy before, sitting with a stranger and sharing your story can feel like a daunting experience at first. In time, your use of silence will be an important part of how your story is told.

If you’d like to understand more about how therapy could work for you, feel free to get in touch for a complimentary consultation. I promise there will be no awkward silences.

Dr Naomi Murphy

Dr Naomi Murphy

Post Author

Naomi is one of the UK’s most respected forensic clinical psychologists. Recently appointed Honorary Professor of Psychology at Nottingham Trent University, she qualified as a clinical psychologist in 1997 and as a consultant clinical psychologist in 2003.