Nodding and smiling

English: An animation depicting a nodding gesture.

English: An animation depicting a nodding gesture. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been having a lot of fun with the whole therapist shtick about nodding and saying “mm-hmm.” One of my colleagues pointed out that it’s very effective to nod, say “mm-hmm, and also smile into the bargain. In fact, she had a friend who got involved in some community activist work who would invite her to come to meetings, sit in the front, and nod and smile. She said it was very encouraging to have someone in the audience nodding and smiling. She would even give recognition from the podium to her supporter. Well, isn’t that what nodding and smiling is– support?  We all want to feel heard and acknowledged. Sooner or later life throws a bunch of nasty stuff at you and there’s nothing you can do but deal with it– one way or another. Your choices essentially are, you can deal with it better, or worse. You can deal with it stoically, or with a lot of crying and shouting. You can deal with it with laughter or tears, or both.

The whole smiling and nodding (or looking sympathetic, or grave, and nodding) comes more or less under the heading of “supportive therapy.”  Some people turn up their noses at this, and feel that the therapist is not doing much. Well, you be the judge.  The therapist has been through trouble of his or her own and has heard the stories of many people who got through their troubles– and has reason to believe you’ll get through yours, too.  This is one reason for the existence of peer counselors, hotlines with trained volunteers,  support groups, and group therapy. Whether it’s a solo therapist, a peer counselor, or a therapy group, it’s people who know you’re going through a hard time, and that some things just have to be gotten through. And whether you do it with a stiff upper lip or with a lot of emotional display, your supporters are all familiar with the human condition– because we’re all human– and we can reassure you that, however hard it may be, you’ll get through it somehow. And I don’t know about you, but to me, that means a lot.

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About jamesmatter

Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) in private practice in San Francisco. I work with adults, adolescents, and couples, with focus on substance use and abuse and co-occurring disorders (having both a mental illness and an addiction).
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One Response to Nodding and smiling

  1. Thanks for writing this James! My therapist seems to listen well most of the time. Sometimes his “mm-hmm”s come too rapidly, before I’ve even finished a sentence. but I think part of that stems from him feverishly trying to jot down what I’m sharing with him. The man takes good notes but also has a way of staying present. Believe me, I’ve caught him when his mind has taken a trip out of the office because of something I said. But he quickly returns. He’s human. A nod and a smile can really comfort someone! 🙂 A smile alone can bring sunshine to an otherwise dreary outlook.

    be well!

    Tracy

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