Working in the voluntary sector where cases came because they wanted help, it made sense to start by asking them to describe their problem(s) and then to wait for them to find the words. I would comment so that they could know that I was listening, and my checking out that I had understood what they were saying would give them some evidence that my thinking was active and relevant. There would often be periods of silence with some clients through this process.
I had formed a notion of the value of apparently ‘fallow’ time as a student on placement when there could be periods of time with ‘nothing to do’. It is easy for a tutor in their anxiety to prove useful and to give the student as full a grounding as possible, to fill every moment with activity. Students could feed into this by getting cross if they were bored. Of course, sometimes they would be right to be cross, but I did find in retrospect that the apparently empty time had given me the chance to absorb new experiences and forced me to think about them more fully than I would have done if rushed immediately on to new activities.
The same could apply in the helping session – the client would get frustrated by silences. Sometimes they may be cross that I was not doing more to be helpful. They would often find however that the intensity of attention that went with silences was both challenging and prompted them to think more deeply about their lives.