Over the years there has been much written about silence in psychotherapy and most of the time in these articles and books silence means the absence of speech (Ehrenhaus 1988). A time when the client and therapist are not speaking to each other is defined as silence in psychotherapy.
However to me this is not identifying the true aspect of silence in psychotherapy between the client and therapist. So we end up with these oxymorons in the literature. Consider the title of this article
Clinical Psychological Review, 2002. Lane et al.
Silence in communication in psychodynamic psychotherapy.
This article title implies that one can have silence and communication at the same time
Then is the silence actually silent?
The writers go onto say, “The therapist can use silence to communicate safety, understanding and containment.”
To my mind if a therapist is communicating something to a client then that is not being silent.
Is mime silent?
There is a need to clarify what silence in psychotherapy means. It seems we can have two different types of silence in psychotherapy,
1. Silence means the absence of speech and not the absence of communication
Silence as the absence of speech but not the absence of communication means the therapist is still communicating to the client with only body language, their ‘presence’ near the client and so forth. Thus we have no social level transactions but we do have psychological level transactions occurring
2. Silence means the absence of communication. In this case in transactional analysis terms silence means the absence of transaction.
Silence as the absence of communication means there is an absence of any transactions. There is no communication occurring at the social or psychological levels. There is no speech and there is no communication.
These will result in different consequences for the client and the therapy. The two different types of silence will have different impacts on the client.
I agree if there is communication then this is not silence. A prefix is needed to be more precise before the word silence such as ´verbal´ like you suggest in (1).
It does raise an adjacent question in my mind on transactions. I am thinking how to explain, so forgive my clumsy words … Say from one person they believe that they are transacting from C to C (or whatever), but the other person is oblivious to it – is it a transaction or not? ie does the transaction have to be perceived for it to be a transaction?
Silence is a strange one really and I think gives different effects at different times. For example I find myself sometimes happily sitting comfortably in silence but at other times silence gives a gap that I feel I have to fill, even though I may not want to, and I feel obliged to speak.
Yes Kahless, silence can have a whole variety of different effects on the client. Indeed one would be more accurate saying the client can have a variety of different responses to silence in the therapy room