How Conversation Sparks Therapeutic Change

How Conversation Sparks Therapeutic Change

The Search for the Unspoken Self

By Ron Taffel

September/October 2012

I sometimes think I became a therapist not only to make a difference and help people, but because I was starved for conversation growing up. In the world of my childhood, a tight-knit, working-class neighborhood in New York's Washington Heights in the 1950s and '60s, none of us kids, and absolutely no one in our families, seemed to genuinely talk to each other, even for a minute. Neighborhood gossip, ritualized chitchat, spirited debates about the relative athletic merits of Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, expressions of everyday affection, occasional outbursts of emotion--sure, those happened all the time. But back-and-forth discussion with questions and responses and then more questions that went in directions you couldn't predict--not even on the radar! My friends and I played ball, ogled girls, and craved cars, but I don't remember having a single significant thought in my head, not to mention sharing a thought with anyone else, until I was about 19. We were boys, and as such, nothing more than a bunch of roving reflexes; limbic systems pretending to be human beings. It never occurred to us to inquire about what other people thought or how they experienced life.

This lasted until I met a couple of equally conversation-deprived kids in college who became my best friends. We discussed everything possible, like the annoying vagaries of our parents, the foibles of friends, and, unbelievably, our values and evolving political beliefs. On all fronts, those…

Already have an account linked to your magazine subscription? Log in now to continue reading this article.

(Need help? Click here or contact us to ask a question.)

Not currently a subscriber? Subscribe Today to read the rest of this article!

Read 141260 times
Comments - (existing users please login first)
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Saturday, December 5, 2020 5:17:51 PM | posted by WAB
This was a beautiful article, wonderfully told. Thank you for sharing.

Saturday, September 15, 2012 12:39:36 PM | posted by jeffrey von glahn
This is quite profound. I started well before the manualized era began. The belief I had then about therapy hasn\'t changed. I still start each session with some form of, \"So, how\'s it going?\" If there\'s an important issue from the last session, I\'ll ask about it. Otherwise,I have absolute trust in the client\'s implicit sense about where to start. Invariably, clients - and even very experienced ones! - start with what initially seems to my senses to be the most therapeutically irrelevant incident imaginable. But if I adopt the attitude that \"this must be really important,\" the client eventually - and which may take many minutes - relates this present issue to an upsetting incident from her past and has a healing emotional release (See my piece on \"therapeutic crying,\" May/June 2012.)