Speech, Persuasion and Opinion: The Power of Language during therapy.

Sep 17, 2011   //   by Richard Figueira   //   Blog, East Providence, Lincoln, Rhode Island, Mental Health, Self Help, Stress, cranston  //  No Comments

The Power of Language and Therapy

In the famous speech, “Encomium of Helen,” Greek sophist, Gorgias, offers an undeniable level of understanding regarding speech, persuasion and opinion. Gorgias presents the idea that “speech is a powerful lord.”  I readily agree that with words comes power and with power comes a certain responsibility as the speaker or writer. Language is communication and on the most basic level of survival, communication in some way is necessary for all beings. The idea that I can elicit thoughts, actions, and change with words alone is powerful in itself.  Humans are taught and learn through language, whether it be written, spoken, or a modeled behavior.  We as human beings construct and utilize a communication system that allows us to categorize and make sense of things.  Once an individual is able to understand what the communication system entails, they can then use this language device to their advantage.  In many clinical settings, the aim of therapy is to have the client take control of his/her own actions and thoughts via language, speaking. In fact, most therapy sessions are carried out through conversational dialogue, or writing in journals, or even through the language of body positions. Gorgias’ claim fits perfectly with the more common quote that “with knowledge, comes power.”  Once I know what a certain communicating group of people considers true (right), acceptable, and worthwhile, then I can use words or communicating devices that I know will elicit specific reactions.  Power comes into play regarding speech in that I can totally construct an argument or proposition that can completely sway my audience in the direction of my choice via my language (word) selection and structure. In general, clinicians should have a great command of the therapeutic language, in that they can guide their clients to a place of understanding, change, and self-power. With this, however, comes a certain amount of integrity and responsibility on the part of the clinician, and trust, on the part of the clients.

One of the most striking lines in Gorgias’ speech says, “…but since opinion is slippery and insecure it casts those employing it into slippery and insecure successes.”  I will here pose the question, “what are our opinions, and what do they do?” Even if we base our decisions on empirical evidence this predicates the notion that said data is right or true, rendering our decisions based in opinion.  Our opinions in the realm of reality are nothing but a guide for our own individual souls.  Our opinions are ever-changing and are rarely ever concrete which means the opinion is susceptible to the power of words. Clinicians, like any human being, do have their own opinions, but those opinions should only guide them. Great clinicians are able to use their own opinions to guide themselves in therapy, yet listen and utilize the opinions of the client to assist him/her in his/her situation. Because of the authority role clinicians hold, it is possible to impose one’s own opinions on the client if untrained. With this understanding I would agree with Gorgias that the persuader has the power to constrain. As the persuader (clinician) I can set boundaries around my constructed argument (opinion) that gets the audience (clients) to react and feel the way I need them to in order to sway them into a state that facilitates change. In essence, the job of the clinician is to use language–therapeutic techniques–to get clients to see where a problem exists and then teach clients the language necessary to change the issue; thereby giving the client ultimate power.

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