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Expressing the unexpressed: self-disclosure as interactional achievement in the psychotherapy session

Issue: Vol 5 No. 1 (2008)

Journal: Communication & Medicine

Subject Areas: Healthcare Communication Linguistics

DOI: 10.1558/cam.v5i1.39


Self-disclosure is endemic to psychotherapy. Though clients themselves disclose their experiences and emotionala states during the course of a psychotherapya session, they typically do so with extensive prodding on the part of their therapists. Thus, the therapist’s interactional role is an agentive one, facilitating a client’s verbalization of therapeutically-relevant material. In this article we will discuss how the therapist
manages such facilitation locally when the client (unexpectedly) ceases his/her self-disclosure, often at potentially therapeutically relevant moments. As a locally managed interactional practice, the therapist’s intervention resumes the client’s self-disclosure. Since such intervention emerges amidst ongoing, emotionally-loaded revelations on the part of the client, they should be interactionally aligned with the client’s contribution.

This paper describes how the psychotherapist enables the client to verbalize significant aspects of self, aspects that may never before have been verbalized or, if verbalized, failed to elicit any empathetic response from an interested listener. This paper presents how specific communicative strategies and language forms take on therapeutic value in the discussed context, underlining that the communicative function is not pre-ordained but rather remains to be actively constructed in discourse. Data taken from a corpus of audio recordings of actual therapy sessions conducted in August and October, 2004, document the practical application of a Relational Psychotherapy approach based on such categories of methods as, among others, inquiry, attunement, and involvement (Erskine et al. 1999).

Author: Joanna Pawelczyk, Richard Erskine

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