Verbal and Non-Verbal Communications

A reflection on the role of the unspoken elements of communication and on the dimensions of verbal communication beyond the literal meaning of words. 

Westland, G. Considerations on Communications – both Verbal and Non-Verbal in Body Psychotherapy (2009) Movement and Dance Psychotherapy 4:2: 121- 134.

The theme of the meeting of the Fells and Dales Counsellors was based around this paper by Gill Westland that focused on verbal and non-verbal communication.  Although this paper was written through the lens of a body psychotherapists we explored the relevance within our own therapeutic modalities.

This paper opened with the notion that communication and experience involves a verbal element and a non-verbal element.  Both have equal value in therapy.  The paper went on to reflect on language and how it is used to convey emotional communication to try to elucidate our inner world or conversely how language can serve as a defence against therapeutic contact with our inner pain and distress.  There is emphasis beyond the verbal meaning of words to the ‘energy’ communicated, the pitch, the tone and the context that surrounds the verbal and that this carries meaning.  Members of the group related this to Roger’s  – ‘Music beneath the words’.

The paper then went on to explore how aspects of our neural  systems might influence elements of our communication and how we may refer to these within therapeutic settings.  Westland notes the ‘dance’ between left and right hemispheres processes that may manifest as a client moving between factual (left-brain) and what Westland considers more unconscious, inner-process (right-brain).  This is also apparent between the sympathetic (arousing emotions such as rage and frustration) and parasympathetic (calming emotions such as sadness and joy) routes of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and is useful in working with what Westland terms as therapeutic presence and resonance.

The discussions that emerged through the meeting were varied.

In one thread we further explored the way in which the left and right hemispheres influence the way we perceive and interact in different relational encounters and several interesting texts were noted Ian McGillorist The Master and his Emissary (Left and Right Brain).

We pondered on whether it was possible to offer interactions with clients that may help to build more balance between left and right processes and in emotional regulation or whether this tip-toed into leading clients or presenting an agenda in our work.  There was a shared sense that while we strive for those moments of resonance, we appreciate it is not always possible.  Questions then surfaced around whether the duration of work (mostly with the increasing need to adopt more focused-based approaches) would impact on the ability to truly achieve resonance/presence in the way described by Westland.

This left us with the on-going question of whether we align to a client’s stated verbal goals or whether we should address emerging needs that arise on a more subtle level in therapy, that are perhaps less consciously noted by the client themselves – particularly if working to a designated time scale?

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Verbal and Non-Verbal Communications

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