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Aug 28, 2017

Something Non-Verbal

jyotsanablog12picEvery counselor that I have met has a different style and approach about working with clients. No matter what our theoretical orientation, we often have certain techniques that we have tried, tested, and developed over the years that define our authentic counseling self. It is a common misconception when entering the field for counselors-in-training that they have to do a lot of talking. Several techniques do require for us to speak and with much intentionality, but there are other ways as well. Today I’d like to share some that I have found work for my clients from time to time…ones that require me to be quiet.

First, I found that talking just to reiterate or re-explain what you have already said to the client is not advisable. It sometimes backfired too. My adolescent clients would often come back with “I’m not dumb, I understood that”. Unless the client asks you to repeat or has clearly indicated resistance, once presented an idea, a question, a thought can be allowed to stand. The thought, idea or question be allowed to travel through the various mechanisms of the brain and produce something verbal if needed, if not then letting it stay non-verbal is also just fine (except in emergency situations).

Second, I found that working with trauma clients specifically, one needs to have non-verbal strategies…not just being quiet, but techniques like art supplies, tactile materials, fidget instruments etc. to facilitate non-verbal processing in the brain. A famous book by Bessel van der Kolk called Body Keeps the Score talks about how our body contains our trauma and that when our body starts feeling the after effects of the non-verbal trauma, it cannot always be processed verbally. In that case, drawing, paper crafts and similar activities may be used to process non-verbally. Once externalized it is easier to process and get information verbally. One always has to be vigilant because that may not be appropriate if the client is dissociating – then we need immediate grounding interventions.

Third, working with clients with attachment difficulties, it can be useful to utilize rhythmic movement. Throwing a ball back and forth with your client as you both talk to each other, or having a rocking chair in your office may be some outside the box techniques that can be tried. I have found that going for a walk with your client (if appropriate and consented) and mirroring their pace can also be a conversation facilitator. However, the caveat here is to make sure your client is in a space that they would benefit from it.

Lastly, I would like to stress the importance of using words just as intentionally as we can use silence. More about that some other time.

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Jyotsana Sharma is a Doctoral Candidate, Counselor, Educator, and human being in the making.  Visit her website at: or find her on twitter @jyots21s

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