I’m going to go ahead and reveal a secret that therapists have: Sometimes we don’t know what to say.
Are you surprised to hear that therapists, who spend all day talking to people, are sometimes stymied by language? After all, you’re probably thinking of seeing a counselor in hopes that he or she can offer some advice or perspective about your situation, or at least listen attentively. You may even feel uncomfortable at the thought of sitting with another person in silence.
Therapists, like all humans, don’t always know what to say. And sometimes we intentionally choose to say nothing, because the most appropriate response, especially to a story of harm or grief, might be no response. Counseling encompasses much more than just language. Sometimes both you and the therapist need a minute to just sit together and absorb a new truth, or an important emotion that has arisen, or even a beautiful moment. People who go to therapy often report that the moments of silence were actually the most profoundly healing.
I often tell my clients that we learn most of what we know before age 2. Then we learn to speak. This means that the truths we hold most deep within us cannot be accessed through language… an ironic belief for a talk therapist. And so, therapy is often the painstaking work of building the bridge between knowledge and language. And where the bridge cannot be built because the banks are too far apart or the cliff face too precarious to begin construction, we might just sit quietly for a minute or two, and trust. What is therapy? Sometimes it’s asking another to quietly sit on the edge of your terror, confusion, and uncertainty, with you.