Monday, March 16, 1998 at 15:58:57

Compliments on an intriquing site, a delightful place to stumble upon in the dead of night when I am avoiding my own studies. I am a school psychologist who had learned a very structured approach in my early career to doing interviews. I decided to go back to graduate school for a second Master's in counseling, and was introduced to a radically different approach to the interview, called facilitative listening. It was a new frontier for me. It is based on a philosophy of "non-directive" or "client-centered" therapy, fathered by Carl Rogers. It is an approach to listening in which a clinician tries to follow the cognitive and affective process of a client, with as little personal intrusion as possible.  Presumably, whichever processes that the client selects to engages in, point directly to their most important psychological functions and needs.  It is the clinician's task to learn to follow the path the client takes in his/her thinking and feeling, in order to to empathize and understand. The facilitative listener is eventually able to mirror to the client aspects of their own conscious and unconscious process and experience. It is consciousness-raising, so it is automatically theraputic.  Okay, okay, long introduction. Um, where was I? Oh yes, the use of filled pauses in therapy... I have learned to pay a lot of attention to filled and unfilled pauses, as a counseling student. First, I have very definitely learned to insert filled pauses of the mixed lex and non-lex variety into my speech, more than I would in normal conversation. I am learning to block myself from introducing all manner of my own emotional material in a therapy session, through conscious fps. I buy time to censor my initial biases, my own logical assumptions, judgemental protestations, all-knowing advice and giggles, with an adroit "uh, really?" and "okay, um, okay". Oh, by the way I agree, unfilled pauses, silent hesitations, do seem to be signs of a little affective anxiety. An emotional reaction or sometimes a problematic idea may have been touched upon by the speaker, and necessitates a little effort to recover, to "put it behind oneself" again so to speak. Really long unfilled pauses imply an individual has experienced a bit of an anxiety "shock"...or maybe are consciously censoring what they want to say next. It could be guessed that something has been triggered that is so unsettling and at odds with one's conscious agenda, at that moment, as to be disorganizing. The pause is presumably recovery time. Significant pauses relative to the usual speaking or working pace of a client, suggest something has been touched of personal significance.

- DL

Thanks for the first-hand confirmation of the correlation between silent pauses and affective anxiety.  Incidentally psycholinguistic research has supported this theory with respect to silent pauses but not with respect to filled pauses.  Have you noticed the same?  That the ums and uhs do not necessarily correspond with the patient's anxiety?

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Last Revised: 99/08/26

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