Silence in Psychotherapy: Therapists’ Difficulties in Using Silence as a Therapeutic Technique

Warin, Tarsha
Joyce, Sue
Item type
Degree name
Master of Health Science
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Auckland University of Technology

The use of silence within psychotherapy for attentive listening, observation, self exploration and creating a holding environment is well documented. Silence facilitates in creating an interpersonal space where both therapist and client can communicate. It is the gateway that leads from the conscious to unconscious; an effective vehicle for healing and change. This dissertation explores why some psychotherapists may find silence uncomfortable, causing difficulties in using silence as a therapeutic technique. Emphasis is placed on examining the therapist’s developmental history and the therapist’s transference and countertransference dynamics that influence the therapist’s experience and use of silence. The methodology for this study is a modified systematic literature review with clinical illustrations.

Beginning with an overview of the historical development of the role and function of silence as contextualised within a classical view and moving to more relational and transpersonal approaches, silence is revealed as a multifaceted phenomenon with various contrasting meanings and attitudes. Review of the literature indicates that the therapist’s preverbal developmental deficits in relation to separation and threat of, or object loss, may cause the therapist to be over-active, as words become the ‘metaphoric teddy bear’ used to fill the absent and empty space within the therapeutic session. Findings support the notion that the therapist’s unresolved conflicts will influence and impact on the transference and countertransference dynamics, the use of silence and the therapeutic relationship. Gaining an awareness and understanding of the therapist’s defences and transference and countertransference reactions can be used to indicate difficulties with silence and thus improve the quality and use of silence within the therapeutic situation. To be able to use silence effectively in the therapeutic process, findings reveal that an important step for therapists is to first learn to be alone with oneself in the silence.

Psychotherapy , Countertransference (psychology) , Psychotherapist and patient , Psychology
Publisher's version
Rights statement