Is this all what we do here?
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
One of the main difficulties that I encounter in my work with foreign clients is the question that often arises: what am I going to do in therapy, just talk? Whereas that question has singular implications for each person that asks it, I find that often there is a cultural issue behind it. For many cultures, it is not well-looked upon to talk about yourself. In fact, there exists the preconception that to talk at length about oneself is selfish or it can even be construed as complaining.
I make the distinction because, with my Argentine clients, that isn’t an issue. In Argentina, it is much more common for people to do therapy and to feel comfortable with the instance of going to someone to talk about oneself and to reflect upon their life and their issues. However, in many cultures, this makes people uncomfortable. Talking is somehow juxtaposed to doing – when people talk they are not doing, they are wasting time.
I think that this perception of talking has a point, however. To merely talk about oneself doesn’t guarantee that the person is actually reflecting or even changing. There are many ways of talking about oneself, or even just plain talking. We’ve all had the expereince of being in front of someone who appears to be talking to you yet, in fact, is really involved in a monologue that seems to go nowehere, that is having a conversaiton with themselves.
That is the real challenge that I face in my practice and that I feel is at the heart of the work that I do – to create a space in which talking can be productive, in the best sense of the term. This means to create a relationship with a client were there is a safe and non-judgemental space where the person can talk and listen to themselves, to be able to hear when they find themselves repeating actions/situations that they don’t want to repeat or make surprising connections between things that they had never thougth of before.
I think this way of looking at therapy poses a challenge to this juxtaposition between talking and doing. In fact, doing mechanically, incessantly can also be a way of not thinking, of not reflecting. Sometimes, the only way to break that cycle is to stop doing, to give onself a space to listen and to reflect.
This is very different to the kind of thinking that we can do by ourselves, the kind of thinking that often becomes cyclical and can be one of the reasons why a person seeks out a therapist. Oftentimes people go to therapy because thinking takes on the compulsion of doing – people think in circles and this makes it very difficult to connect with others and with the world around them.
It in this way that I think talking is an essential part of therapy. But it is not a regular talking and it is not an inner discussion with oneself. It is a way of talking with someone else, a professional, an interaction that has the sole purpose of moving towards change, of breaking cycles, of generating something new.