Psychoanalysis is a process that works with discourse, language, and speech. “Nothing takes place in psychoanalysis,” wrote Freud in his introductory lectures, “but an interchange of words between the patient and the analyst” (1916, p.17). Of course, Lacan also conveys that “psychoanalysis has but one medium: the patient’s speech” and emphasizes that “[t]he obviousness of this fact is no excuse for ignoring it” (1953/2006, p.206). Speech is the object of the analysand’s elaboration and this “ribbon of sound,” as Saussure called it, is the production of whatever comes to mind within the presence of the analyst as Other in the transference (1986, p.102). But what about when the ribbon of sound ceases? I raise this question since it seems the obviousness of speech has perhaps detracted somewhat from the obviousness of its opposite: nonspeech or silence. If the analysand’s unconscious is structured like a language, then the manifestation of this language must be supported through and necessarily implies the silence of the analyst.
In this article, we discuss the current clinical guideline in trauma treatment which proscribes putting traumatic events into words. Via Lacan’s registers of the Real, the Imaginary and the Symbolic, we consider an alternative understanding of trauma in which subjective processes and the relationship between subject and Other are crucial in understanding the inability to process traumatic events. When, in that relationship, a dissatisfactory representational framework has been installed, therapy should focus on finding stabilization in a safe and supportive environment. In a case illustration, we elaborate on the situation in which the existing representational framework fails and how therapy encompasses a search towards another position in relation to the Other. We conclude that speech functions as an instrument, rather than as the finality of the cure.