© 2017, Sarah Fishburn Roberts

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The Sounds of Silence


The pressure to keep moving and stop thinking (and we could add feeling, sensing, perceiving and so on) is a very real one, and in this respect I wonder if therapy ‘saves’ me more than it does my clients. It is a great privilege that, as an essential aspect of my job, I must stop everything to engage fully with another human being.


Clients find it harder to do this than they initially imagine.


Their first realisation is that the counselling room operates differently to much of the world. While therapy might seem to consist of two people conversing, many social conventions are abandoned. If silence falls over the table in a pub, for example, someone will inevitably fill it. In therapy, silence is, as the expression goes, golden. It offers space for reflection, for the formation of long suppressed words or feelings; it inspires independence of mind and fresh revelations. It is both shared and personal, which can make it a profoundly intimate experience.

Understandably, clients find the silence embarrassing, even persecutory, and wait anxiously for me to do something. We always talk about this, because exploring their discomfort leads to fresh insights about how they experience themselves, and others, out there in the world. In time, they start to realize that silence is not only safe and containing, but that it is only in stillness that new perspectives to enter their consciousness. Mary Oliver puts it so beautifully: “But little by little, as you left their voices behind, the stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds and there was a new voice, which you slowly recognized as your own, that kept you company/as you strode deeper and deeper into the world.”


We live in a clamour. Counselling refuses to conform to a world that says: ‘keep moving, stop thinking.’ To do this means to skim over the surface of life, to evade or dominate the things that frighten us. Therapy signposts us inwards, into our own depths, so that eventually, life’s endless movement and flux does not disempower or destabilize us, but instead is the context for our own growth and fulfilment

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