No Talk Therapy
Sometimes there are just no words
for what the heart and body experiences
An approach to the treatment of children and adolescents who won't or can't respond to traditional, conversation-based therapy. For these children, therapists need an entirely new clinical language, one that doesn't depend on words. Within an interpersonal and developmental framework, the goals of no-talk therapy are to provide someone to be close to and something to be proud of. Through empathy and respect, games, activities, involvement, a close adult, and little pleasures, this approach begins to provide anxious, sullen, enraged, and confused kids with the self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-awareness to develop a voice of their own.
Someone To Feel Close To
The relationship is most important in no talk therapy. Without a connection, there is no treatment. Healing is based upon a sense of control and the creation of new connections. The therapeutic relationship serves as the scaffolding onto which the development of competencies, self-esteem, problem-solving, self-soothing, and insight is built upon. By helping kids to function at a higher level in the therapy session, gives kids the opportunity to experience their potential. The therapeutic relationship operates as a kind of special alliance and its safety and specialness are paramount. While therapeutic techniques are of tremendous value in some situations, they necessarily take a back-burner position while the establishment of basic trust is cultivated. A good relationship is not merely the precursor to therapy, but, in many ways, the very point of treatment. The relationship itself, by being with them in a present, empathetic, accepting way, can shift their set of beliefs about themselves and the world. The mending power of a therapeutic connection can be profound and transformative.
Something to Feel Proud Of
Fostering competence is at the heart of no talk therapy. Kids can feel tremendous relief to know that they are accepted at their exact developmental and behavioral place. No talk therapy is a child-centered approach that empowers kids to lead their own therapy to experience control, find meaning, rise to a challenge, and build resiliency. No talk therapy becomes an opportunity for new learning, feeling better, and building insight and strengths.
Somewhere along the line, sometimes kids become less curious and lose their sense of wonder in life. They stop feeling hopeful about themselves and their chances. Without wonder, problem-solving strategies become rigid and undeveloped and the feelings of joy and excitement that come with the inquisitiveness towards life are lost. When we are open to wonder, we can begin to anticipate the unknown with interest rather than dread.
(Based on Martha Straus' No Talk Therapy for Children and Adolescents)
Why Silence in Session May Happen
Some of the most powerful moments include no talking. We typically think of therapy as an energized conversation between two people working together to understand what's going on and why. The client raises questions, concerns, and observations about themself while the therapist clarifies, summarizes, and makes connections between past and present or thought and behavior. Most of the time, a lack of words is not a problem. But the words don't always come. In some cases, talking would get in the way of experiencing deep thoughts or feelings.
There's no need to rush putting words to feelings. Sometimes it's enough just to feel deep grief, anger, or joy without speaking. Talking can have a way of pulling you out of emotion and into your head as you piece together the stories, details, and prior experiences of the feeling. When a kid comes to a session after difficult experiences in life, the emotion can be heavy and the words are few.
Being Instead of Doing
Some kids have such a strong need to perform and achieve that doing nothing may be the hardest and most enriching work they do in therapy. There are a lot of people-pleasers out there. They might set a goal of not dazzling their therapist with an intriguing problem, fascinating insight, or dramatic story—and that is okay.
Therapy is a stressful experience for many kids. They feel like they're under the searing light of the third degree and are so afraid of scrutiny they become a deer in the headlights. There's nothing beneficial about this panic. Rather than fill the space with pressure to talk, it's okay to sit in silence. It's okay to do nothing but sit with yourself and enjoy the company. When you're relaxed, the words will come.
Don't Know What to Say
Many kids simply don't know what they're supposed to talk about to get the help they want. They're not sure how to describe their symptoms, access emotion, or talk about feeling stuck in therapy.
Sometimes kids have a big secret they never told anyone before. They may feel paralyzed with fear of the reaction or of hearing themselves say the words. So they sit in agony, trying to find the courage. Respecting this silence builds safety and trust.