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“At first, I couldn’t stand the silences in the sessions. I’d not know what to say and I’d be really aware of the counsellor sitting there, waiting for me to speak. Sometimes I’d laugh nervously and talk about something trivial like what I’d been watching on television just to break the silence.

"For a while, I found myself wondering if the counsellor was stuck for something to say and feeling as awkward as I was. However, as the seconds crawled by, I realised that this wasn’t the case. They were not lost for words or struggling to respond to me…they were giving me the time and space I needed to find the right words to express myself openly.

"I came to understand that counselling isn’t about listening to someone else speak… It’s about listening to yourself. You take the time to explore your thoughts and feelings and, through doing so, gain a greater understanding of yourself and how you relate to the world around you. Sometimes, that means stopping talking and just focusing your attention inwards. My counsellor was well aware of the need for this…

"Those long silences in sessions gave me the time to really figure out what was going on in me. When I blurted out something just to fill the silence, it would rarely be me speaking openly and honestly. For a short while, I said things that I thought the counsellor wanted to hear. These words never felt true to me and I would end up shaking my head and correcting myself almost immediately afterwards.

"It took several sessions but I eventually came to embrace those moments of silence. I’d sit and turn my thoughts inwards. The clock on the wall ticked quietly but that noise no longer felt so insistent. The counsellor was patient and relaxed in the silence and I began to feel this way too. It actually felt really good to be able to explore myself in such an unhurried manner.

"Over the next few weeks, I began notice that this increased tolerance of quiet moments began to spread into other aspects of my life. I felt less pressure to speak when I didn’t want to and used these times of silence to turn my gaze inwards and explore my thoughts and feelings in the moment. I started listening to people - really listening to them and not just waiting for my turn to speak. This had a real positive impact on my relationships and I found that people began to communicate with me on a deeper level.

"Most importantly, I stopped feeling threatened by quiet. Now when I wake up in the morning, I don’t immediately switch the television or the radio on to create background noise. I don’t need that sort of distraction any more, I am far happier listening to myself.”

Taigh Sàmhchair: professional counselling and psychotherapy

Hereward Proops MBACP, registered member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy

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