A heuristic inquiry in two parts exploring experiences of silence described by novice and clinicallyexperienced psychotherapists and any implications for the therapeutic encounter

  • Hildegard Wismayer

Student thesis: PsychD


This study explores experiences of silence described by novice and clinically experienced therapists and any implications for the therapeutic encounter. Working as a therapist the researcher noticed an emphasis on speaking rather than silences. With increasing clinical experience attitudes towards silences started to change. The question arose, of how therapists ascribe meaning to their experiences of silence and whether this might change with clinical experience. The literature review revealed that silence is a multifaceted phenomenon that can be used as a tool, compared to allowing silences to emerge. A research method was required which could illuminate more elusive dimensions of silences which might be beyond words. The study was conducted employing heuristics developed by Moustakas (1990), focusing on tacit knowing. This method enabled 8 novice therapists in part one, and 9 clinically experienced therapists in part two to speak of their experiences of silence, which developed into themes, including: Qualities of silences, sociocultural context, anxiety, training, theory, intervention and clinical experience. The findings indicated that novice therapists are inclined to be apprehensive about silences and seem to regard silences as anxiety provoking. This anxiety was linked to negative personal experiences, sociocultural backgrounds that rarely tolerate silences in an ordinary social context and the tendency to use silences as a tool. Clinically more experienced therapists appeared to be more open to own experiencing, more able to tolerate anxiety, letting silences emerge and allowing silences in the therapy room. This opened possibilities for the somewhat elusive and mysterious phenomena of silence to be revealed and allowed for a more authentic meeting in the therapeutic encounter. To conclude, using silences as a tool can be seen as getting in the way of accessing profound silences of the inner self as a source of wisdom, which could be integrated into therapeutic praxis.
Date of Award10 Jun 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
SupervisorOnel Brooks (Director of Studies) & Julia Cayne (Co-Supervisor)


  • Silence
  • heuristics
  • experience
  • therapeutic encounter

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