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The National Council of Psychotherapists

Est. 1971



Such an important concept, in which we as human beings try to convey to another person our meaning, wishes, requirements and needs. We also include our opinions, our hopes, our beliefs. But just how do we do this, and can we really ever fully understand anther person’s experiences and perceptions?


Some people specialise in the non-verbals, and you can find them on TV as experts, judging whether the talk show guests are lying or not.


Others say they specialise in a more esoteric aspect of life, and using excellent skill they appear to have prior knowledge, to already know by some unseen manner, or have messages from elsewhere. A recent programme demonstrated quite clearly the potential concerns there, and highlighted the need for therapeutic interventions to be just that, interventions for the benefit of the client, and to avoid exploiting any preconceptions and unfounded expectations. To have been able to convince so many organisations and ‘cults’ showed the artistry and excellence of Derren Brown, and reminded me to be aware that we are gifted with the trust of our clients and we must not abuse that.


There is much knowledge now about the differences between verbal and non-verbal communication  - and how the words we speak can be completely different to the body language and signals that accompany them. There is also still much debate as to the importance of such body-language – an eminent psychiatrist spoke on Radio 4 recently about how he finds that too much importance has been placed on the separateness of verbal and non-verbal communication.


The written word is of course a good example of the non-verbal, and one that requires some thought. When we write words out, or type them, we must be mindful that the person receiving such words did not have the luxury of hearing you read them out loud to yourself as you wrote, and neither can they gauge your mood by having seen your expression as you wrote. Instead they have only the words, and must gain an understanding of your meaning without the accompanying physical gestures. Working as we do with people’s inner realities, perhaps we need to take as much care with our spoken and ‘shown’ words as we would with any written words.


I was recently reminded quite clearly about the importance of mindful and clear written communication; that full 2-way exchange, where information is given and received. I had been asked to take a workshop at a large company, working with the employees on how they deal with stress. Over some weeks I had sought information about equipment available at the company address, sent emails, and had gained no definitive answer.  Telephoning did not guarantee I would speak to the organiser, and others had different opinions. With time pressing, and in order to reduce my stress, I then asserted that I would discuss arrangements with one person, to reduce the mixed messages, and would require response within a reasonable time frame. The workshop went well; having secured 2-way communication, I was able to take the required equipment with me.


We as therapists must be aware and respond to both verbal and non-verbal. It’s not a case of trying to catch anyone out, or accuse them of not telling truths, more it is taking the whole person and understanding the truths and their truths of their situation; the troubles that have brought them to your office or clinic, and the fullest possible essence of what they are trying to convey to us. Mindfulness and clarity in our dealings with our clients can be seen as essential; after all, they may not have the luxury of assertiveness to state clearly what they need, and may not even know exactly what they need from you anyway.


Rosalyn Young. RMN, MNCP


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