The Usefulness of Silence

Is silence golden in the counselling room? It can often feel deafening and trigger feelings of discomfort and anxiety in both client and counsellor. Learning to work with silence however, can be a very useful way of deepening a session.

Silence can have different meanings and exploring this is an important part of knowing how to work with it. Clients could be thinking about what has just been discussed or they might be assessing an insight they have made. They might be bored or angry, or waiting for their counsellor to say something and direct the conversation. Either way there is communication going on in the room.

One way to explore silence might include the counsellor acknowledging it and then checking in with their client about how they feel. In this way the silence itself becomes part of the therapeutic process and not just the absence of conversation. 

Silence can be important in giving clients time to sit silently and reflect on what has been said in the session. “Silence is a moment for reflection, where the client gets to let their psychological processes happen without the input or interference of the clinician”. (Knol et al., 2020. How speakers orient to the notable absence of talk: A conversation analytic perspective on silence in psychodynamic therapy. Frontiers in Psychology, 11).

Sitting in the silence of their feelings can greatly help clients sort through the chatter of their mind. If a counsellor can match this silence and continue to sensitively observe their client’s body language, much can be communicated about the meaning of the silence and what is happening for their client.

Knowing when a client is thinking and needs to be left to think rather than to be interrupted is an important skill a counsellor can bring to the therapeutic process.