In Silence There Is Healing

Mary Plouffe - South Freeport, Maine
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, April 8, 2011
Mary Plouffe

Psychologist Mary Plouffe makes her living with words: In the life details her patients share, and in the counsel she offers in return. But Plouffe has come to believe that the best opportunities for healing may come when no words are spoken at all.

Age Group: 50 - 65

I believe in silence. As a clinical psychologist, I spend my day talking. Therapy patients arrive on the hour and we talk. Sometimes the words are powerful, heart-wrenching, devastatingly true. Sometimes.

The silences always are. I’ve come to trust them more, and learned to translate their peculiar language. We speak volumes, you and I, in our silence.

There’s the silence of fear — fear that fills the space between us as you struggle to convince yourself that the risk of connection is worth taking. I sit a mile away, across a space littered with wounds I can only imagine. But I can imagine, my silence says, and I am still here.

There is the silence of withholding. Saying nothing, you convey your disbelief that words could do anything but make things worse. To speak a truth makes it real, and there is no going back. But you are here because you cannot go back, my silence responds.

There’s the silence of loss that knows no words, for which no words are big enough, or powerful enough or deep enough to convey what only silence can. I step into that devastated interior landscape to witness, silently. If we can stand together long enough, perhaps we can find a way to believe the loss will not kill us both.

I know the silence that follows just the right words, the ones that fall unbidden from my lips or yours, surprising us both with their astonishingly obvious truth. We collapse into that silence together, breathless. We sit softly in it, letting it surround us with echoes of meaning. The ripples it sends out will await another day for analysis or exploration. We know the truth now, it binds us together, and in this moment, that is enough.

I learned years ago, when I thought music might be my calling, that the notes are only tools. Music is made in the spaces between the notes, the phrasing, the transitions, the silences.

So, too, in this world of healing with words. Oh, I work hard at the words. I refine them, and parse them, and shape and color them for each person who shares their story with me. I work at them because they take us to the precipice, to the edge of the truth.

But I believe in the silence: The all-knowing and unknowing, devastating silence that exists beyond that precipice. I believe in it because that is where the healing lies.

Mary Plouffe, Ph.D., trained as a classical soprano before becoming a clinical psychologist. She is in private practice, and writes essays about therapy and social/cultural issues. She is completing a memoir about childhood grief based on her sister’s death and the relationship with her niece from ages three to ten. Plouffe has recently published essays in On the Issues magazine, and Survivor’s Review.