The researcher was in his third year of an MSc in Psychotherapy and Counselling and practicing as a trainee therapist when it became increasingly clear that one client was at times finding it difficult to talk during sessions. Especially when invited to explore feelings this particular client would become silent, as if lost for words and apparently unable to cooperate any further.

This situation was new to the researcher who at first became somewhat anxious while wondering what to do. Thankfully, supervision helped contain his concerns and explore the therapeutic relationship with this client. With time and appropriate support the researcher eventually learned to relax and started noticing that, as the sessions progressed, the client seemed increasingly more comfortable and talkative especially when, rather than focusing exclusively on some specific issues, a more imaginative exchange of ideas would be taking place. At the same time the researcher had also begun to explore the notion of ‘play' by D. Winnicott (1982, 51-70) who saw it to be an “essential aspect of the psychotherapeutic process”.

Indeed, the clinical work by Winnicott on the subject of playfulness seemed to have verified what the researcher was finding out by himself in his practice. An atmosphere of play in the session seemed to have effectively helped the client be more creative and talk more easily. This experience left the researcher curious both about this aspect of playing in therapy as well as what was actually happening in therapy when the client would not be able to talk.

As the researcher began to inspect the relevant literature it was discovered that other psychotherapists had been working very closely with clients whose ability to talk was problematic. The psychoanalyst psychotherapist Melanie Klein (1946) used to work with very young and autistic children would could not use language efficiently. In order to help interpret her patients' latent thoughts Klein came to resort to using some form of play which eventually enabled her to gain important insights into the infant's primary forms of communication and phantasies (Mitchell, 1986).

According to Klein, the infant who is still too young to use language refers to his internal and external world by splitting it into two categories: 'good', or gratifying, loved and loving, and 'bad', or frustrating, hated and persecutory. Klein argued that this pre-verbal way of relating, which she named the 'schizoid-paranoid position' (Mitchell, 1986: 21-22), could frequently be revisited in adult life during periods of profound anxiety. When the subject felt threatened he or she would 'regress' to this primary form of relating and 'project' the good or the bad parts of himself or herself into others. According to the psychoanalyst very intense feelings would be at play during the early periods of life in the infant not yet able to speak. Could there be anything like this happening with the researcher's client? Finding himself increasingly interested in this subject the researcher decided he would conduct a study on what was happening in therapy when the client would not talk.

Hanna (2002: 24) quotes Ottens & Hanna as saying that a baby acquires pre-verbal judgements or beliefs referred to as 'ontological core schema' that can be thought as fundamental notions encompassing awareness, love, people, self, problems, and the world in general. In turn Dowd & Courchaine (1996: 164) argue that certain beliefs would be formed at an age so early that they cannot easily be spoken about and therefore very difficult to address in conventional therapy which relies on talking. According to Hanna (2002) if those primary and fundamental assumptions could not be changed then neither would the client.

In the same vein the concept of 'resistance' became widely used by most therapists to describe the clients' attitude of blocking any painful acknowledgement of their feelings in the therapeutic process. Hanna (2002: 18) quotes Freud as saying “The patient who comes seeking desperately for help soon bends every effort to defeat help being given”; the client would “repress” into his unconscious any painful and distressing materials evoked during the session (Freud in Gay, 1995: 32).

If Hanna (2002) claims that the notion of resistance has changed since its inception by Freud in the invention of psychoanalysis, in most cases it still remains that the client is mainly perceived by the clinician as “defiant, unruly, stubborn, undermining, ambivalent, apathetic, or deceptive in their attempts to avoid change” (p 19).

For Lacan (2006: 595) however, the reverse is true as he writes“There is no other resistance to analysis than that of the analyst himself”. According to the French psychoanalyst the treatment becomes difficult 'because' the analyst does not want to face what is genuinely happening during session. In fact Fink (2007: 132) refers to Freud as having had previously recognised this attitude of avoidance from the therapist which he referred to as “the ostrich policy”.

In line with Lacan's idea of resistance Hanna (2002) claims that more recently this concept has turned around and with this is shedding more light on the responsibility of the therapist. For the author the therapists’ miss-perceptions and inappropriate approaches are in part responsible for the clients’ perceived resistance and that most difficulties in therapies should be seen as a form of self-protection from the client against an 'untrustworthy and threatening therapist'. She writes: “When a client is not changing, it is often for an excellent reason, and it could be that a therapist is indirectly bringing about the problem” Hanna (2002: 21).

In chapter two the researcher will be exploring the existing literature in relation with the therapist's experience of a client who finds it difficult to talk where the action of talking, although seemingly obvious in its definition, would be taken from Freud's idea of the 'talking cure' where progress in therapy depends on a therapeutically relevant form of talking (Freud in Gay, 1995).

Wittgenstein (2001) wrote in the preface of his book “What we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence”. As a commonplace phenomena occurring when the client is not talking the researcher will also conduct a literature review using the keyword 'silence' and explore its findings from an existential-phenomenological, person-centred and psychoanalytical perspective.

Conducting a research requires that the researcher develops an awareness of the existing methods and the epistemological stance upon which they rest (McLeod, 2000).  In chapter 3 the researcher will be examining both quantitative and qualitative approaches in the light of their epistemological inclinations. It will be argued that a qualitative enquiry is in line with the present research since it is the most appropriate method of research in the domain of psychotherapy and counselling (Alasuutari, 2010). The precepts behind some other qualitative research methods will also be explored and eventually rejected in favour of Giorgi's empirical phenomenological approach of qualitative enquiry (Giorgi, 1985).

In chapter 4 the researcher will introduce the chosen research method in Giorgi's method along with the rational behind its choice of sampling, selection of participants, data collection and ethical considerations with regard to doing a qualitative research on the subject under investigation.

In chapter 5 the research findings will be unveiled as analysed using the method by Giorgi (1985). Finally in chapter 6 the researcher will first discuss the findings in the light of the reviewed literature, then present his own thoughts on the research, and offer his ideas on possible future research.






Literature review


Research method




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