The Silent Session (Eileen Murphy 2006)
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Eileen devised The Silent Session specifically for working with vocally resistant clients (“I don’t have to talk to you if I don’t want), those referred through Statutory Orders or for those who did not wish to disclose or engage.
In the knowledge that the Solution Focused model is a positive, strengths-focused intervention and, as an attempt to provide some intervention when there was clear vocal resistance to engagement with a “therapy bod” or where clients really couldn’t verbalize to a “stranger” – Eileen decided to develop a way of offering the client a “journey of discovery for themselves” without the need for disclosure or discussion about the problem or reason for the referral at all. So she devised and offered The Silent Session.
However, it soon became clear that offering the Silent Session often resulted in people “trusting” the session and having more confidence to, eventually, respond verbally. Some part of this, of course, is due to the fact that it is evident to the client by the offer of a “silent session” that the facilitator is not seeking to judge or to analyse but is obviously focused on helping the client.
The training was very fun, lively and useful. I found the whole style perfect for my learning style. I really enjoyed all aspects of the training and particularly the practical tasks, i.e. The Silent Session – which I have raved about to my colleagues!
Rachel McManus, Senior Lecturer in Social Work, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield.
Where it was clear that the client was referred against their will or did not want to co-operate or simply did not trust the process, Eileen would introduce the session as “I would like to run this session as a Silent Session. I do not need you to answer out loud unless you want to, so please feel free to break into speech at any time. When you’ve heard the question and answered it out loud in your head, then raise the third finger of your left hand to indicate that you’re ready for the next question”. The purpose of being so specific in the indication was an Ericksonian technique and merely to focus their attention more on the finger action than on whether they were going to engage or not.
Although Eileen initially had concerns about risk-assessment where the client group were extremely vulnerable or had mental health disorders, she realised that all professionals are aware that clients may say one thing but think another so the facilitator could never be 100% certain that anything was the truth. However when she asked questions around safety – “On a scale of 1-10, where 1 is you do not feel safe and 10 indicates that you feel safe and are not anxious about your well-being at this time – indicate what number you are on at the same time as you answer this question out loud in your head”.
If one was to protest that the client could withhold the truth on this – then Eileen would agree but she makes the point, often, that everyone would also have to agree that even when they verbalize their responses, clients could still withhold the truth so she maintains that neither method is full proof on ensuring safety outside of the practitioner’s own risk assessment skills.
Eileen’s priority is always the safety of the individual, especially when working with children and where there is any doubt that a client or child is safe, the many visuals of the Examine, Repair & Move On Approach provide further opportunities to ensure that everyone is heard and an emphasis is made when we train staff that the facilitator should always work within their own safeguarding frameworks.
The Silent Session is more in practice than this short explanation and there are many factors involved in order to create a watershed in the resistance and engagement for the client.
When Eileen first offered this approach to clients, she focused on those struggling with alcohol and drug issues and it was the success of the sessions that encouraged her to offer it to a wider group of clients. Young people, for instance, really respond well for many reasons, the primary one is perhaps that they are well used to interventions where they are “talked at” or “questioned” and are intrigued by the Silent Session approach. What became clear over the years since she developed these sessions is that when we are asked questions about our part in any presenting problem we prepare our reply, edit it to our own liking and deliver it to the questioner – very neat and tidy if we wish to put our version of events forward. However, when we are invited to answer “out loud in our head”, we can not avoid hearing the truth and perhaps address it accordingly.
See Eileen’s blog post about The Silent Session >The Silent Session is included in all of our training courses.
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