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Page Contents: Long silences in psychotherapy.                    


I made the decision to try psychotherapy after years of depression which started in childhood. I have been to three sessions so far and have tried to be open and honest. Although I liked the psychotherapist initially, the sessions always contain long silences while he sits and stares at me. I find this excruciating and desperately fish around for something to say until I go blank and stare at the floor. In the last session I told him I didn’t like the staring and he apologized and said he was here to help. I am starting to dread the next session and am thinking of quitting. I understand that I am supposed to do most of the talking but as I am so unused to talking about myself, isn’t he supposed to help?

There are many different kinds of psychotherapies, each with its own particular theories and procedures. A person new to psychotherapy cannot be expected to understand much about the treatment process, so it can be especially helpful for the psychotherapist to explain what the treatment involves. Sadly, some psychotherapists fail miserably at this—and that’s why this question and answer section of my website got started.

It sounds as if your psychotherapist is practicing a form of psychoanalytic psychotherapy in which the psychotherapist remains silent quite often. As I explain in another question, the psychoanalytic technique of silence can be an effective intervention used in the treatment. Nevertheless, if therapeutic silence is to be a part of treatment, you must be given the rationale for this treatment procedure that initially may not make any sense to you, and you must be taught how to make use of the psychotherapist’s silence by your free association.

The fact is, even if you don’t like something initially, once you understand how it works, it can be very helpful to you.

Still, some forms of treatment are not for everyone, and there can be more efficient ways to conduct psychotherapy than psychoanalysis. Even I, who have been trained in the principles of psychoanalysis, use an interactive technique in practicing psychotherapy.

Your psychotherapist should have explained all of this to you, rather than just let you flounder to the point of getting frustrated enough to want to terminate the treatment.

So what can you do? You can explain to him what you have read here and ask for some help. If he just remains silent, then you have good justification to leave him and find someone who really can help you.


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Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.
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