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O'Toole, M.A. (2015). The Phenomenon of Silence in Psychotherapy. Att: New Dir. in Psychother. Relat. Psychoanal., 9(3):342-360.

(2015). Attachment: New Directions in Psychotherapy and Relational Psychoanalysis, 9(3):342-360

The Phenomenon of Silence in Psychotherapy

Michael A. O'Toole

This paper locates the phenomenon of silence in the context of the goal corrected system for self-defence as outlined by Heard and Lake (Heard & Lake, 1997; Heard et al., 2009). It traces the phenomenon of silence from the psychoanalytic model of Freud, through the object relations school exploring the work of Fairbairn, Guntrip, and Balint, and finally attachment theory culminating in the work of Heard and colleagues (2009). Silence was initially seen as a form of resistance to the fundamental rule of analysis, but more recent contributions particularly through the work of Fairbairn, Guntrip, and Bowlby have added to our understanding of the significance of silence as a form of communication. Bowlby's work on defence was built on by Heard and Lake who integrated Le Doux's (1998) fear system within the attachment dynamic, and gave the system for self-defence its proper place within their theoretical framework. I view silence as a manifestation of the system for self-defence where speech is no longer available. The professional caregiver has to attune to the silence within the defence in order to help the person traverse the boundary from fear to careseeking within the self-defence system. Examples of how this happens clinically are included in the final section of the paper.

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