How Talking Helps
Since I am a psychologist, it is obvious to me how talking helps people. However, the benefits of talking are not apparent to many people. In fact, some folks are so negative about seeing a therapist that they openly say, “Talking is a waste of time.” But talking does help.
Talking is cathartic
There is a word that captures how talking helps—catharsis. Talking leads to a catharsis, which means a feeling of relief. The charged feelings within us become less charged. Nothing has changed that caused the suffering in our lives, but talking has drained off some of the pain and this brings relief.
It makes you feel better
When I was a new counselor, I didn’t fully understand the power of talking. I would be surprised when people left my office saying, “I feel better now.” I would think to myself, “How could they feel better? I did nothing but listen.” Over the years I came to appreciate that listening to others is far from doing nothing. Listening gives people an opportunity to tell their story, and, in the telling, they find relief and a quieting of their emotions.
I have many stories of how people benefit from talking, but the story that follows is one I will never forget.
Years ago, a woman in her late 40s arrived in my office. She related that after a prolonged illness with cancer, her 21-year-old son died. I could see the despair and grief she was feeling. With tears in her eyes, she told me she could not talk to her husband or her daughter because they couldn’t bear to think about their loss. “I need to talk to someone,” she said. “I need to tell someone about my son, how I cared for him during his illness and how he died.” I agreed to listen.
For the next two months, this mother arrived for her appointment each week. She started her story with her pregnancy and took me a step at a time through the life of her son. I listened. My eyes were focused on her and her feelings became my feelings. At times I smiled with her and at times my eyes, like her eyes, were filled with tears.
She ended her story by telling me how she spread her son’s ashes over her garden that she loved so much. When our last session ended, she stood up, grabbed my hand and thanked me for helping her. She was so appreciative. She left my office and I have never seen her again, but her story stays with me. Talking helped her.
Talking leads to new solutions
Talking helps in other ways, too. Many times when we talk with a friend, a family member or a therapist, we are stuck. We don’t know what to do. But as we talk, we hear ourselves express feelings and information that have not been expressed before. It is this experience of hearing ourselves that allows us at times to suddenly think of what to do. A solution pops into our mind.
In my practice, I ask people a lot of questions to keep them talking about what troubles them so they might discover their own solution. Very often, they are surprised how they suddenly think of how to solve the problem. It is not unusual for me to hear a statement such as, “You know, doctor, something I never thought of before just hit me.”
Believe it or not, talking to ourselves can be very beneficial. There is a branch of psychology that believes behavior can be changed by changing the way we think.
That’s why some therapists recommend self-talk to their clients as a strategy to help change the way they think. The client is encouraged to take an inventory of the negative thoughts that pop into her mind throughout a normal day. Then the therapist and client together work out a series of positive statements to counteract the negative statements. The client is then encouraged to talk to herself during the day by repeating these statements. It is a lot like re-programming a computer. Old thoughts that are counterproductive are erased and new thoughts that are positive and constructive are entered into the mind.
Powerful Self-Talk, Change Your Self-Talk, Change Your Life by Michael J. Russ. Audio CD. www.powerfulliving.org.