What would you have been thinking to yourself during the periods of silence?

Using Silence in Counseling

The following exchange between Carol and her counselor illustrates how important silence can be in a crisis. Carol is an adult female who presented to counseling with severe symptoms of depression, suicidal ideation, and an attempt to kill herself yesterday with an overdose of sleeping pills.

Carol: I just want to die. All of the emotional pain, sadness, and humiliation. I just had another miscarriage, my third one, and I’m almost certain I’ll never have children. (Pauses for 15 seconds to think.) On top of that, my husband is growing more distant too, and I worry he might leave me for someone who he can have a family with.

Counselor: So you’re also feeling worried about how this is going to impact your marriage, and whether or not your husband will want to be with you.

Carol: (Silence for 30 seconds as she looks down and to the right.) Yes, but I realize that if he truly cared for me, he wouldn’t leave. I think maybe he is just as hurt and in as much pain as I am. It’s my own insecurities, really. (Pauses for 15 more seconds.) And if he did want to leave, then he is not the right person for me to be with. Maybe I deserve better than that.

Counselor: (Silence for 20 seconds as the counselor gathers her thoughts.) So there are a couple of things at work here. First, your husband’s behavior could represent how he is grieving, and your insecurities may have distorted how you have been making sense of his behavior. And second, you realize that what is important for you is to be with someone who truly and genuinely cares for you and is committed to the marriage.

Discussion Questions

1. How effective was the counselor’s use of silence?

2. What alternative responses may have also been helpful?

3. Put yourself in the position of the client. What would you have been thinking to yourself during the periods of silence?

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