The Space Created By Silence

How a therapy session with very little talking helped me heal

Erin Benson

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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

I kick off my shoes, tuck my legs up next to me, and sink into the soft folds of the overworn sofa, settling into the cozy room across from my therapist, Helen, as she putters around the office, finishing up paperwork from her previous client. Helen is not the first therapist I’ve seen since my son, Sam, was diagnosed with a terminal type of brain cancer called DIPG, but she is the first I have seen regularly. Helen came highly recommended, but past experiences with therapists gave me a healthy dose of skepticism and mistrust.

In early 2014, six months after Sam’s diagnosis, I thought some therapy might be a good idea, something the mother of a dying child should do. After a few hours of internet research, I found a clinic near our temporary home that took our insurance. Choosing a therapist from an online menu of practitioners is a strange and somewhat problematic process. Most of the counselors with availability were young, seemingly perky women. They didn’t appeal to me. Perhaps because their smiling photographs projected an identity I wanted to inhabit: young, professionally successful, happy, perhaps because I didn’t believe they could truly understand me, fully grasp what the past six months had asked me to endure, I ended up scheduling an initial consult with an older gentleman whose online profile described him as a “mental health professional with more than ten years of experience who specializes in grief and loss.” To me, his age made him seem wise, an experienced practitioner of life, someone who had seen some stuff and wouldn’t find my life circumstances pitiable. But, mostly, I think I chose the older gentleman because I felt old. My recently wrinkle-lined mouth and eyes had come to curve down at the corners. My skin had taken on a grey tone and seemed to be separating from the rest of my body. My bones were heavy. Everything was heavy.

I was surprised when the older gentleman did most of the talking, recounting his professional career in minute detail and listing his credentials. Near the end of the hour, he did ask me a few questions about why I was seeking therapy. Short on time, I gave him the highlights: terminal cancer diagnosis, newborn twins, loss of jobs, semi-permanent move to Minnesota to be near…

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Erin Benson

I write about trauma, grief, mindfulness, mental health, and the complexities of being human. My new book is now available on Amazon at https://qrco.de/bdXvYK