Dealing with silence in the therapeutic relationship


Therapists are often wondering when it is okay to break silence in the therapeutic relationship or whether there are any times when it is never okay to intervene.  The appropriate answer will clearly depend on the therapeutic setting and the nature of the relationship, whether it is a contracted (long term) client, a new client or a client being seen at a drop in centre.  Sometimes I welcome the opportunity for both myself and the client to check what is happening. I often think it is a good idea to check what is happening in my body, particularly if a lot of back story has been articulated.  The dilemma, however, is that I will then intervene and break the silence too soon, thereby effectively robbing the client of that special space for reflection.

Practicalities may impede the natural flow. For instance, it is important to keep boundaries and to remember the time-frame of the session.  The silence period could be taking place approaching the end of the session and, therefore, the time constraints may make the decision for you.  It is always intriguing what could have happened without such time pressures, just like what would have happened if a client engages in door knob disclosure when exiting the room.

Moments of silence in the therapy hour, on the part of the client or therapist, can communicate important psychodynamic information. Whatever you do, the right decision will ultimately be the outcome of your honest and open minded approach to do the right thing. Staying honest and open minded is critical to all your therapeutic work.