by Velleda C. Ceccoli Ph.D. on March 28, 2011


Much of the psychotherapeutic hour is based on dialogue. On putting our experience into words, as an attempt to communicate to another what has happened, what we feel, what we remember. The interchange that ensues in each clinical hour is particular to the experience of each patient and their analysts’ experience of them. Each clinical moment is constructed on this dual, shared experience and each participant’s ability to find the words to communicate it. As such, our speech is performative: an articulated action meant to make contact with another person, as an invitation to be known.

As I have written in other blogs and professional papers, it is often the case that words fail us. That they are not enough to convey the complex and deep meaning of our experience. At such times, we may convey meaning and experience through silence, or a look, a movement, or by acting in a particular way that invites the other into an experience that is known through its shared feeling, but has yet to be articulated and understood. All of these pertain to the psychoanalytic situation, in which it falls within the analysts’ purview to find words that are adequate enough to capture the multiple, layered meanings of personal experience, and lead to some mutual understanding. We always come back to words, to narrative, to dialogue as a way of connecting to others and elaborating ourselves – as a way of being known and understood.

We rely not just on words, but on the way that they are spoken, and here, it is our voice that takes center stage. Our voice, with all of its dense inflections, tones, rhythms and accents, adds color to our words or neutralizes them altogether. It provides a direct experiential link between emotion and feeling and thought. It bathes words with affective expression, which bestows diverse meanings and alters the strict definition of words. This is something that music and vocalists have always known – alter the harmony and it changes the meaning of the melody, alter the rhythm and you shift the emphasis, add coloratura and you create an individual thrust  and intensity,  sing a duet and you enter into a musical conversation or argument. Vocalists can modulate their voice to convey different intentions, which reach inward and affect us deeply, calling forth our own, personal experience. Musicians do this through their instruments and their interpretation of the score. The pliancy and elasticity of our voice changes and shifts the meaning of words so as to make them capable of expressing a myriad of  messages and implications. It is our voice which carries the emotion and rounds out the sharp and constricitve edges of language.

The human voice is a complete, amazing and powerful personal instrument. Through the use of our voice we add emotional texture and expand the potential of words and what they can convey. With our voice we fill in the area of language that is porous, in which the possibilities are literally endless since they involve the full spectrum of emotional life and experience. Psychotherapy provides a space where one’s voice can develop and change, where it can resonate with the different meanings of  personal history and life experience and its echo in the present. Often, finding our voice when in dialogue with another, ushers in new possibilities for being and a new understanding of our history and past.

Our voice is like our calling card. Hello world, (it says), here I am, and this is how I make myself known, this is how I want you to know me, this is what I want you to understand about me. Our voice moves our personal aesthetic forward toward others, engaging them in different ways. It provides the means for the elucidation of who we are and what we are about. We can use our voice to clarify meaning, alter it, or obfuscate it. Furthermore, with our voice we can draw attention to or away from specific situations and information, as well as engage others intimately or keep them at a distance. Our voice is ultimately, the carrier of emotion and the bridge from our internal experience outward, into the world and into our relationships with others.

Hmmm….It certainly underscores the meaning of  the saying: “it ain’t what you say, it’s how you say it”.



{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

trisha coburn March 31, 2011 at 5:26 PM

Thank you for helping us all shout it out. I have always heard that eating something crunchy is an indicator that attention needs to be paid to the voice. Now i understand why i sometimes crave potato chips, better work on speaking it sure saves alot of calories! So here’s to words and tones and sounds! T


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