Reading Between the Lines

Posted by: Dawn Schell on août 12, 2011 12:00 pm

An important component of online counselling is learning how to read between the lines. Same as in face-to-face (f2f) counselling it’s about paying attention.  In f2f counselling we pay attention to the verbal and nonverbal cues (amongst other things).  In online counselling we pay attention to: what people say, what they don’t say, word choices, phrasing, name substitutions, pacing, inconsistent spelling errors, understatements, grammar, punctuation (or lack of same), capitalization, use of metaphors, misquotes.  I could go on but I assume you all know what I am talking about!

Let me give you a few examples of the kinds of statements clients might make and some of my “reading between the lines”. 

Client – I have one living child.

There’s a story there [wondering if this was a deliberate choice of words].

Client – I tried really hard to help John.

Which implies that John rejected the “help” or it wasn’t sufficient or ?

Client – I know it’s not his fault he got this disease.

Angry? Feels trapped?  Wants someone to blame?

Client – In my job I have control and balance.

Implying they don’t have control and balance in other areas of their life?

Client – I’ve always told him that would never come before him and I? 

Ending with a question – did they tell him?  Or are they rethinking their priorities?

Client – I took a lot of psychology and meth in university.

So did a lot of people…but I think the client means Math.  Worth checking out?

A client talks for an entire session about their relationship but never tells me their partner’s name. 

Hmmm, curious isn’t it?

A client session – 17 pages long, single-spaced, with no grammar or punctuation.

I’ve had this type of client session in person too – a breathless rush of words.  Have they been holding this in for a while?  Are they afraid someone will cut them off?  Or, in their experience, no one listens?

The examples I have given here may seem obvious.  Though I suspect they are obvious only when we are tuned in and present.

In reading between the lines I am careful not to assume anything.  And equally careful not to make the client “wrong” if I am asking about a spelling error.

I share my observations or curiosity, ask questions and seek feedback that I have an accurate understanding about what they are saying. Sometimes clients say “Oh, I didn’t mean that at all.  It was autocorrect or … [fill in the blank]”.  Other times reading between the lines opens up a richer, deeper discussion of emotions or motivations or self-awareness. 

I wanted to end this post with a clever statement so you would have to read between the lines to fully grasp my meaning.  Sadly, I am fresh out of clever statements today….read into that what you will!

The views expressed in this blog post are personal.

Dawn Schell, MA, CCC is an affiliate of

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Laisser un commentaire

Votre adresse e-mail ne sera pas publiée. Les champs obligatoires sont indiqués avec *