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Lost For Words

I am a keen advocate of talking therapies and have no doubt at all that they can be extremely effective in helping us all to find our unique ways towards healthier, more positive solutions. Talking about our problems, no matter how intractable they may seem, in a safe and trusting environment can be, in my experience and opinion, invaluable. Yet the very phrase, ‘talking therapy’ can carry its own ironies and misunderstandings.

First, there are times when words are not enough. Although words are our common currency, for many people, more natural, authentic and comfortable forms of expression can range from literature (writing poetry, journaling, reading), drama (acting, performing, watching). art (drawing, painting, designing, sculpting), music (playing an instrument, singing, listening), sport (playing, participating, watching) or even more practical activities that might not, at first, be considered to fall within the category of ‘talking therapies’. They could range from carpentry to jewellery-making, from building to housework. In short, anything that somebody can enjoy in a more tangible way that is individual to them. Any of these can be discovered and identified within the counselling (talking) relationship as ways of unlocking and healing our true feelings of rage, fear, sadness, loss. Sometimes, these things might be seen simply as ‘not allowed’ within the talking therapies, the phrase itself constraining us from truly expressing - or being - ourselves.

Even more constraining, perhaps far more often than we might realise, can be when words actively get in the way. Words can be used very effectively as ways of expressing how we feel, but they can also, with equal effectiveness, be used as ways to protect ourselves against the very feelings we think (or like to think) we are expressing.

When we use words like pain, grief, love, or adjectives such as manic, traumatic, isolating, difficult, we are too often seeking to explain something without truly feeling it. Less helpful still is when, as a counsellor (or therapist), I accept these generalised descriptions of ‘feelings’ or ‘states of being’ at face value, as if they are mutually understood and fail to ask what they mean for each, unique individual. At such times, without having such words to protect ourselves, we may be left only with silence - and feeling; the most terrifying experience of all, and the one thing our minds are seeking to help us avoid.

There is no doubt in my mind that talking therapies continue to be extremely helpful and can incorporate as many different and varied healing resources as there are people who need them. Yet it is a mistake to ignore that there are times when words are not enough, and there are other times when words can be too much. In truth, the most powerful and transformative experiences in therapy can happen at those times of silence, when we are lost for words.


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