The Idea Of Listening To Silence

Human beings communicate in various ways, and receive communication through different sense organs. The most common interaction in therapy are verbal and social rules of dialogue that usually require formal greetings; when one person is speaking the others remain silent, and, interruptions are rude. In group therapy, the social roles are resisted to some extent and there is a different pull on the group members to relate in a less cautious way so that they may explore their reactions and give feedback to the speaker. As pointed out, there are often many listeners silently attending to the person speaking. The obvious question occurs, what should the therapist be listening to, the patient speaking, the group silence, or both?

Let us assume, for our current purpose, that the person speaking is the manifest level of the group interaction and the listeners represent potentially different responses within that field of group interaction. While the speaker is the manifest level, the silent members operate at an unheard level. Reception of verbal information in the group field usually accompanies nonverbal reactions, facial gestures, and physical movements that may give the group leader some information about reactions to the manifest message. The group therapist, eager to have a flow of dialogue, will often ask about or note the nonverbal reactions in the hope of adding to the group dialogue. However, from a group analytic perspective, silence must be respected. This represents a particular dilemma for group: How long should they tolerate a total group silence without wondering out loud about both the silence and the silencing effect? Group therapy or analysis does not consist of a series of alternating soliloquies or dialogues between any one pair of people in the group. Every group has an internal need for relating and dialogue; total silence must represent some hidden mechanism that is counter to therapeutic group interaction.

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