Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Silence in counseling

According to Knapp (2008), silence is a normal and beneficial component of therapy. Accommodating comfortable silence gives the client time for reflection, or gathering his or her thoughts. Additionally, it provides the time and quietness for deeper feelings and emotions (Knapp, 2008). Knapp (2008) claims silence is essential in the therapeutic alliance and counselors must provide a space for it, honor it, and work toward being comfortable with it.

Silence is used to demonstrate counselors' patience, their anticipation of additional information, or a further response from the client (Knapp, 2008). When used with attentiveness and appropriate eye contact, it solicits further response and conveys the counselor's genuine interest (Levitt, 2001).

For example, when clients self-disclose, they may experience hesitation, apprehension, or difficulty telling their story appropriately and coherently. The counselor can nod and keep silent, in effect, encouraging clients to take their time and proceed as they can, reflecting and gathering thoughts as necessary. Throughout the silence, the counselor maintains proper eye contact and other aspects of attentiveness. This conveys the counselor's openness for further information.

Silence, as in pausing, allows clients to stop and think as well as feel possible deep emotions released in therapy. It lets the client put thoughts in order or sequence prior to their conveyance to the counselor. Knapp (2008) refers to this as a sorting process. Above all, silence provides a fertile ground for reflection from the client as well as the counselor. Ladany, Hill, Thompson, and O'Brien (2005) believe a strong therapeutic alliance contributes to an easier use of silence. For example, as the client feels comfortable with the counselor, silence is better tolerated and not perceived as critical or invalidating (Ladany, Hill, Thompson, & O'Brien, 2005).

Duba (2004) explains how silence can be instrumental in encouraging self-reflection, but also self-direction. In a group interventions, Duba (2004) perceives silence as a challenge to members to take a risk in disclosing something about themselves. Considering this, it would seem to me that even in the dyadic communication of counseling one individual, counselors' silence can create a platform on which clients may, in essence, take a risk and self-disclose. Without some silence, it may be more difficult for clients to find the right moment to interject an important piece of information.


I like to think that we do not always simply use silence, but we accommodate it. When we accommodate it, we are acting consciously and with awareness, allowing a natural flow wherein silence applies itself in its appropriate time and place. Simply "installing" it as a device loses its poignancy and purpose. I am comfortable with silence, in myself and with others. I believe, as does Ladany et al. (2004), that there are conditions and contraindications that set the stage, so to speak, for its effective use in counseling. Only through authentic attentive consciousness and awareness can we make that determination accurately.

As a future consideration, it seems important to mention that Duba (2004) believes in the importance of counselors learning how to navigate the comfortable as well as the uncomfortable aspects of silence. When it is mostly uncomfortable or non-existent in therapy, seek supervision. Silence has an important place in every therapeutic alliance and counselors should be able to accommodate it comfortably.


Duba, J. D. (2004). Using silence: "Silence is not always golden." In L. Tyson, R. PĂ©russe, J. Whitledge, J. Duba, P. Neufeld, & J. DeVoss (Eds.), Critical incidents in group counseling (pp. 265–270). American Counseling Association.

Knapp, H. (2007). Therapeutic communication: Developing professional skills. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.

Ladany, N., Hill, C. E., Thompson, B. J., & O'Brien, K. M. (2004). Therapist perspectives on using silence in therapy: A qualitative study. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research: Linking research with practice, 4(1), 80–89.

Levitt, D. H. (2001). Active listening and counselor self-efficacy: Emphasis on one microskill in beginning counselor training. Clinical Supervisor, 20(2), 101–115.


  1. I was wondering about this...very glad I found this post. I've concluded from this post that my therapist likely uses silence in effort to allow me to self direct or reveal a tough thought that I otherwise would not feel comfortable enough risking...again, great post.

  2. As I'm currently undergoing an introduction course to counselling skills, this was a very useful article in ascertaining why a helpee/client may in fact be silent during a session.