The Power of Words in Counselling

Have you ever wondered how the world would be without language? How would we communicate with each other? Even when we are seemingly quiet and not talking to anybody, there is a constant stream of thought that is going on in our head, isn't it? No matter how hard you try, you simply cannot ask yourself to not think about anything; you cannot ask yourself to not use language, much to the disappointment of many who are very fond of saying, "nothing," when asked, "What are you thinking?".


In the field of Counselling Psychology, a lot of emphasis is given to what you say, when you say it, and how you say it. While you may not be aware of it, a seasoned counsellor will be able to pick out the subtle significance in the apparently insignificant statement that you might make. For instance, let us take the sentence 'you think you can teach me'. Now, try to repeat the same sentence emphasizing on the first word of the sentence. Similarly, repeat the sentence, only this time, emphasizing on the word 'think', and so on. What you will realize is that every time you place an emphasis on a particular word, the meaning that you are conveying, changes.


What we don't realize is that in our daily interactions with the countless people, we are constantly choosing to emphasize on certain parts of our spoken words, also called ‘utterances’, as the Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin had said. Some of the emphasis might be intentional, whereas most of it remains unconscious. Taking this idea forward, Mikael Leiman suggests that depending 'about what' people are speaking and 'to whom' they direct their words, the style and content of their utterances differs. Dialogical Sequence Analysis (DSA), a technique developed by Leiman, was originally developed to help counsellors analyse the utterances and processes within us that govern them. According to DSA, we as humans, learn to relate to our internal self and the outside world right from our childhood, and this emerges in the form of a pattern. Simply put, we tend to repeat the same pattern that we observed and experienced, as a child, through our primary caregivers. These patterns emerge and can be recognized in different ways, such as in the way we experience an event, in the dreams that we have, in the beliefs that we hold, and importantly, in the way we interact with others.



We are generally not fully aware of the patterns which we repeat in our daily lives, and that is where the counsellor steps in. A counsellor will try and identify these, (mostly) by analysing the utterances as we speak. A good counsellor will also try to assist you in identifying the patterns which are being repeated in order to make decisions about whether the behaviour is suitable in the given situation or not. Simply narrating an incident is sometimes enough to remove you from the situation and to put you in an observer’s role, and eventually, outside of the counselling set-up. Think of it as a skill that you learn – a skill that may be deficient but can be attained or improved by the appropriate help of your counsellor.


So,while it is true that the counsellor will help you, it is you who will be helping yourself by talking about your experiences and learning to analyse them.


#language #counselling #communication #patterns #words #DialogicalSequenceAnalysis

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