Language is a communication tool that gains much of its power not from what is said, but from how it is said. Language is used all the time in therapy in an effort to heal a patient, but sometimes the means and process of healing can be overlooked. Good Will Hunting is a movie about a man named Will Hunting who is a genius that can solve any worldly problem but cannot seem to confront or overcome his own internal struggles. After two failed attempts with other therapists, Will was sent to Sean Maguire in the hope that Sean would be able to get through to Will. By the end of the film, Will was able to confront his past with the help of his complex verbal and nonverbal communications with Sean.
As Will went into the initial session, he sarcastically remarked, “Let’s do it. I’m pumped. Let the healing begin.” Will was uncomfortable, so he used sarcasm out of fear so that he could preemptively attack to show dominance in the conversation (French and Stevens). Will used sarcastic language to express his pessimistic attitude toward the idea of therapy. In doing so, Sean learned that Will would most likely try not to cooperate and make Sean’s job more difficult. Sean realized through Will’s language that this just meant that he would have to be patient.
A few sessions later, Will sat in silence for the entire hour twiddling his thumbs and counting the seconds. Sean also sat in silence because he knew that Will had to be the first to speak. Even though no words were spoken, their silence still conveyed a message. Sometimes silence can say more than any words (Smith). By staying silent the entire time, Sean gathered that Will wanted to prove that he did not have to talk if he did not want to. Again, Sean showed patience because he knew that Will would not directly express himself verbally. Sean picked up on Will’s mannerisms in order to discover more about Will in the silence.
As Sean began to understand Will, he used certain methods of conversation to encourage Will to open up. One of these methods was humor. Humor is a valuable and effective communication tool that can break down barriers and encourage the acceptance of new ideas (Tabares). Sean told Will stories about his wife and her funny habits which caused both of them to burst out laughing. Sean used humor to connect to Will and make him feel more at ease and more comfortable with opening up.
In their last session, Sean was able to help Will face his childhood trauma and move past it. Sean told Will, “It’s not your fault.” Although Will heard these words the first time they were spoken, Sean repeated the same phrase 9 more times. Will eventually broke down having realized that none of the internal struggles caused by his traumatic childhood were his fault. Repetition is an important language tool because a message heard repeatedly is more likely to stay in the mind (“The Power of Repetition: the Secret of Successful Leaders” ). Sean was able to get through to Will by repeating the phrase 10 times and giving Will the reassurance that he needed.
Language can come in many forms, but the way that language is conveyed can sometimes have more power than the words themselves. Will Hunting’s therapy sessions with Sean Maguire in the movie Good Will Hunting provide a prime example of the importance of the delivery of verbal and nonverbal language. Language is powerful, and we can learn so much more if we pay attention not only to the words spoken but also how others express themselves. The different ways that people use language can teach us more about them. It is important to remain attentive to how people express themselves because it could be a gateway to a deeper understanding of others.
“The Power of Repetition: the Secret of Successful Leaders.” Lighthouse, 11 Oct. 2016, getlighthouse.com/blog/power-of-repetition-successful-leaders/. Accessed 11 November 2020.
Smith, Kurt. “Silence: The Secret Communication Tool.” World of Psychology, 8 July 2018, psychcentral.com/blog/silence-the-secret-communication-tool/. Accessed 11 November 2020.
Stevens, Linsey, and Eric French. “Sarcasm: Is Invoking the Power of Irony Healthy or Hurtful?” Iphelia, 13 Feb. 2018, www.iphelia.com/sarcasm-invoking-power-irony-healthy-hurtful/. Accessed 11 November 2020.
Tabares, JoJo. “Humor: A Powerful Communication Tool?” Creation.com | Creation Ministries International, creation.com/humor-a-powerful-communication-tool. Accessed 11 November 2020.