WHAT’S THE USE OF TALKING ABOUT IT? The Talking Cure- and why it works.

by Velleda C. Ceccoli Ph.D. on May 24, 2010


Ever wonder why you have a running conversation with yourself?

Why you talk to yourself on a more or less constant basis? Sometimes over trivial matters like what to fix for dinner , or what to wear, and sometimes over more serious subjects, like what to do about your job, or your partner, or your kid?

Language, and the use of words distinguishes us from all other species on the planet. It gives us the ability to formulate thoughts, make them real in our minds, articulate feelings. In short, it is our ability to use language that makes consciousness and reality, well, real. Think about it, how else would we know what we feel or think if we did not have the words to describe it? Language gives us the ability to communicate with our inner most desires, and to make them known to another. It links us to, and makes sense of our experience, our moods, and our sensations. And it creates a bridge to others which allows us to make ourselves known to them. It allows us to have relationships, whether good or bad. The quality of these relationships often depends on our ability to communicate our experience and our needs. On our ability to speak our minds.

Let me start at the beginning. When we are born, we have no language. Or at least, no semantic lexicon to label anything with. We are completely dependent on our sensations and feelings to navigate the world. It is through our parents (usually moms, but increasingly dads) that we begin to associate certain sensations and feelings with words. And these words help us to begin to regulate our inner experience. As we acquire language we also begin to experience the world in different ways and through our words begin to respond to it. Take a look at children, they play with words all day long, trying them out on themselves, grown ups, other children. They delight in being able to communicate, and quickly catch on. Using their words is a highly reinforced process which brings many rewards, including the beginnings of thought and curiosity. The power of words lies in their shaping of our very consciousness.

Sigmund Freud, the great father of the talking cure, was on to this when he began working with hysteric patients. He was unable to find any medical reason for the physical disabilities in his patients, and began to ask them to speak whatever came to mind – to free associate. He soon discovered that his patients had a great deal on their minds, and that it was often at odds with their situations. Furthermore, as he listened to his patients, he began to see that much of what they spoke about had not been in their immediate awareness, but instead came from an unknown part of themselves. This lead him to the discovery of the unconscious, and to the understanding that as we begin to articulate those most secret parts of ourselves, to put words to what we would rather not know about ourselves, we become more conscious, more capable of action, and we may no longer need symptoms to express it. The knowledge and understanding that Freud’s patients’ gained about themselves through talking about whatever came to mind, released them from their suffering. What is curative about the talking cure is that it introduces us to those parts of ourselves that we spend most of our waking life not wanting to know. It links us, through language and the articulation of our thoughts, to the rest of ourselves. It provides us with the ability to know ourselves more fully and function as a whole, integrated human being. Talking about “it”, putting our thoughts and feelings into spoken words is important because it helps us to  think through and become aware of the subtext and possibilities which can only be arrived at through articulated interactions with another. The human voice is capable of exposing even the most resistant and unconscious aspects of our reality.

Now, you might be thinking: “I talk to my friends all the time,. They are supportive but…its’ all still the same, it doesn’t seem to help change anything really.” The people in our lives can often be helpful, insightful and supportive. If you have a good support system, chances are you have worked through many life issues with them. Yet sometimes, because our loved ones are invested in us, care about us and have definite ideas about what our lives should look like and who we should be they get waylaid by the same obstacles that we encounter when we monologue with ourselves. And, if our loved ones manage to see something we do not and  articulate it to us, their attempt at objectivity and truth may in fact injure us, as it is not always easy to look into the shadows of ourselves. Friends and lovers, family, know us as well as we allow them to know us, and the impact of those relationships on us may make it difficult to articulate the fine print of our self. There is too much invested, too much at risk. We can use our words to expose and hide ourselves. Although, having said this, we all long to be truly known, and to be loved despite all of our potential imperfections. And it is this desire that often leads us to impose our idealized notions of ourselves and others onto less than ideal situations, creating narratives that are necessarily limited and are meant to bring the ideal into the real.

Psychotherapy, and the relationship between doctor and patient that sustains it, aims to provide a place where it is possible to speak your mind, as freely and openly as one can manage. Unlike other relationships we have in the world, the therapeutic one provides space and room for you and only you. Because it is a fee for service situation, it provides a neutral space through the frame it creates. The weekly appointment time, the fee, the therapist’s relative anonymity – all provide a structured situation that is meant to create space for the patient. While it is a relationship in that the therapist joins in a collaborative effort to help understand the narrative of your life, your history, how it is that you have arrived at being who you are in the world- and in the process comes to know all of the significant players in your story- she is not invested in any particular narrative or result. She is interested in helping you get to know yourself and use this knowledge in your life. She is interested in learning about you and in helping you develop curiosity about yourself and how you find yourself on a particular path. It is unlike any other relationship in our lives, and therein lies its power.

Talking about “it”, the problem, the conflict, the pain, the illness, the situation to a trained listener begins a process of narration which is subject to questioning how we arrived at our beliefs, judgments and actions. It allows us to begin to consider how we have fashioned our lives, and to play with the possibilities, to consider the roads not taken and reconsider them anew. It allows us to create different beginnings and endings. It is in the struggle to put words to our experience that we become aware of our own constructions and begin an active process of awareness that can lead to change. Often this process involves talking about something over and over again, each repetition bringing forth the subtlety of our experience, as well as the necessity of tolerating our frustration at not knowing where something may be headed, along with the feelings that are associated with particular states of mind. The expertise of a psychotherapist lies in her understanding of this process, of what happens when we begin to reflect on our experience within the structured setting that therapy provides.

Speaking our minds and talking about “it” is hard work. It requires a commitment of intent, time and finances. It requires facing ourselves daily, and paying attention to what we say to ourselves as well as what we do. Language, words and the ability to communicate can lead us on a path of self knowledge and clarity. It can help us “walk the talk” because it helps us to negotiate our inner experience and use it as a compass to navigate the world and our interactions in it. Language serves to connect us to others, to help weave our lives with others in dialogue and relationship, and break the monologue of isolation. For most of the patients I see, it is the isolation that their symptoms create (fear, depression, anxiety, pain, conflict) that reinforces the problem. Although there are times when all of us need to be alone to think and re-group, we are, in the end, relational beings. We are drawn into relationship with others from our very beginning, and build out lives through those relationships.

Should you find yourself spiraling in the labyrinth of your own ongoing monologue, or having a repeated dialogue or interaction with another which leads to nowhere, consider investing in yourself and in the safe space that psychotherapy can provide you with, and the change that can come from talking about “it”.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Michele Beck May 25, 2010 at 10:43 PM

Thank you for sharing your wonderful thoughts and voice. Insightful as always. As you know, I appreciate the impact of language, but I also support all forms of SPEAKING: images, movement, color, shapes, sounds. They all allow us to communicate and be in relationship. Imagine what it would be like to have all these forms of communication be considered as equals to talking.

I look forward to reading more of your entries


Gary Cohen May 25, 2010 at 5:15 PM

Thought provoking and well written. Talking is a skill that many are not learning in our era of sound bites, 140 character messages and text messages. The impact on relationships and the ability to “talk” to each other is only just beginning. Nice first post!


Steve Alpert May 24, 2010 at 3:46 PM

Congratulations on your new website and your very first post. And, not surprised that is is beautifully written and insightful. I wholeheartedly agree that talking is the way to identify and articulate those questions that define who we are, why we are they we are and how we got that way. Difficulties are always presented to us in this life, and only by being fully conscious of who we are in the world and talking about them can we identify everything we need to know about ourselves. Then comes self -acceptance, and the remarkable ability to make changes. Besides talking to my wife and step-son, my best talks are with my big beautiful Labrador Retriever, Ray. He’s a very good listener, asks for payment in biscuits, and offers me unconditional love. If you would like an appointment with Ray, I can arrange that…

Look forward to more…



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