Without Words

While I was driving home I approached a zebra crossing. A pedestrian was walking along the pavement, still a little way before the crossing. I stopped. It is possible to tell whether someone is going to cross the road several metres before they stop or look around, because they make a small turning motion with their body or head which foreshadows the planned movement.

There are situations in which it can be useful to observe these minimal movements which anticipate actual movements. When the person leading a committee meeting or seminar asks for a volunteer, for example, a long pause often sets in while everyone waits to see if someone else is enthusiastic enough to volunteer first. And yet the individual who finally volunteers after lots of encouragement is always the one who moved immediately after the request was made – by leaning forwards slightly, by opening his or her mouth briefly, by uncrossing his or her legs, by sighing or by any other movement which might serve as a non-verbal introduction to a spoken contribution. If I want to circumvent this tedious process, I address a direct question to the person who moved first after I asked for a volunteer, enquiring whether he or she would like to take on the task. Experience shows that the answer is always yes.

The story “Without Words” offers examples of how body language can be interpreted. It can be used as therapeutic homework to provide young people with autism with a new way of interpreting other people’s behaviour, and to occupy highly gifted young people with observation tasks as a distraction from provocative or depressive behaviour.

(From: Stefan Hammel: Handbook of Therapeutic Storytelling. Sories and Metaphors in Psychotherapy, Child and Family Therapy, Medical Treatment, Coaching and Supervision, Routledge 2019)

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