Imagine: You are having dinner with friends. There is a much talking, laughing, sharing of stories. Then there is a sudden lull in the conversation, a temporary quiet. How many of us rush to fill this space, even though we do not have much to say?
Image: SD Europe. Flickr.
Silent spaces often occur in social situations. How often are we unable to tolerate the silence? It would be really helpful if you, the reader, could leave a comment at the end of this post about how you feel when there is silence, in any situation. And ways you might deal with this…….
In psychotherapy, many times, people are afraid of silence and not-knowing. They feel uncomfortable. The therapist can help the patient here by demonstrating a relaxed tolerance of the silent space.
The therapist is trained to wait without frustration for something to emerge, rather than rushing to fill the valuable reflective time with superficialities. This is a way of being present for another person, and very much experiencing the present moment.
Original photo credit:Symphony of Love. Flickr.)
Living in the present is not easy. It is difficult to stay with the now, without allowing the mind to wander or to worry and be distracted into the past or into an imagined future. Yet silent spaces can be so creative and productive, in our lives and in therapy.
Such quiet intervals in psychotherapy allow the patient room to feel free of therapist intrusion and over-activity. If the therapist rushes into interpretation and quick ‘understandings,’ without waiting with the patient to see what might emerge, something valuable may be lost and the therapeutic process compromised.
Timing and pace are crucial in every psychotherapy session. Waiting with someone in an atmosphere of acceptance and compassion is crucial in this regard. It involves creative listening, feeling with that person, and thinking in a way that is based on the intuitive, rather than the purely cognitive. Psychodynamic thinking enables this ‘stepping away’ from the fast pace of life outside.
The state of mind needed for such encounters and the ‘not knowing’ state is described by several therapists, across the spectrum of therapeutic approaches. For example, Gestalt Therapy emphasises the therapeutic value of staying with the ‘now,’ focussing on what is happening in the present moment.
Many religions also value silence and not-knowing:
‘Then seeing and experiencing over and over again in Gestalt groups, that ‘trusting the process’ and staying with the void of the ‘not-knowing’ allowed the space and time for something new and amazing to emerge. It linked to the Buddhist notion of emptiness or nothing-ness from which springs a new awakening and creative energy.
On becoming a Quaker, I discovered the Fertile Void in the richness of shared silence. The meeting for worship is a space where nothing was overtly happening yet there was a strong feeling of connection and communion in ‘silent ministry’.
In relation to psychodynamic psychotherapy, this approach is highly relevant; it is closely related to Bion’s recommendation that each therapy session should be started ‘without memory, desire or understanding’ on the part of the therapist.
In reality, there are not answers to everything. Rushing into false certainties is pure folly. Our society is expecting the impossible of us, and therapy should not replicate this false expectation, but challenge it by example.
As Stephen Hawking has said:
‘The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge.’
What do you feel about silence and not-knowing- in any situation -and how do you handle it? Do let me know in the comments below.