Talking therapy

The attentive presence of another can help.  Photo by Joshua Ness on Unsplash

Why does talking work?  Why should simply sitting down and sharing words have a therapeutic effect?


Words are symbolic representations of concepts, and concepts include both thoughts and feelings.  Therefore, words, when spoken, can consolidate ideas which to date have only been half-formed or half-hidden.  People can try out ideas for size.  We can offer descriptions of our feelings, and see whether, when said, they ring true.

In times of confusion, words can provide greater certainty.  This is because the act of choosing words narrows down the number of options in a communication.  As long as this is done with humility, this can provide a road to clarity.  Once a formulation is out there, another person can offer a modification, and so on, until a better working expression is found.

Group therapy uses words in this way.  A person offers a rather raw set of words, expressing where they are at.  Others then offer variations on the theme, and this can enrich, support, and respect the person seeking to share.


A being’s presence, even in this internet age, is significant.  We have spent millions of years sharing our bodily presence with each other, and that is not so easily replaced.

Before we were born, we spent conscious time inside another person’s body, and so physical bodily presence is heavily ingrained into our being.

When we speak with each other, we are signalling that we have taken time both to listen and to respond.  Attentiveness is a conversational jewel, enabling a person to feel valued, and to feel that their participation is welcomed.

Our presence also indicates that we are prepared to make ourselves vulnerable to another.  This, in turn, makes them more likely to be prepared to make themseles vulnerable to us.


There is a natural turn-taking in conversation which is an art in itself.  You speak, I listen.  I contemplate.  I respond.  We speak with each other more.  We listen more.  We contemplate.  We respond.

During that time, a shy person can learn to come out of their shell; a talkative person can learn to be quieter; an arrogant person can learn some humility; a person with low self-esteem can learn confidence.  Talking provides an interactive field on which all parties can play, exercising choices, and undertaking all of the power relations, explorations, humourous phases, challenges, and supportive interjections, that form part of normal life.

Listen to a sympathetic parent talking with their child, and you will hear an example of how turn-taking can do all of these things – equalise power, explore ideas, bring humour, bring challenge, and offer support.

These are only three ways in which talking therapies work, but they give a flavour of why it should be that they work.

A good therapist or friend, therefore, does these things:  they weigh their words with care; they are attentively present; they listen; they contemplate; they respond.


The icing on the cake is goodwill.  All of the above can be done by a psychopath with evil intent.  Unless a person has goodwill, or compassion, then they might as well not be there.  It is goodwill that turns presence to helpful presence.  If a therapist cannot have goodwill towards a client, then I suggest they think carefully about even starting to interact with them.

So there you are.  Even if you are not a natural talker, it may be worth sharing ideas with someone who is kindly disposed towards you.  It can stop you feeling so trapped inside yourself, and help you to move forward with a little more confidence.

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