Therapy as a ‘safe space’…
As therapists we aim to provide a safe space for people to speak freely, without fear of judgement or shame. I think the physical spaces we offer can help or hinder this, because as humans we’re built to unconsciously scan our environment for threats too.
I never refer to what I offer as a safe space, purely because I’m not the authority on that experience – my clients are. What feels safe to me may feel scary to someone else. What I can do is provide a psychological and physical space that we co-create, including negotiating what those spaces look/feel like to enable therapeutically beneficial conversations to happen.
When safety is established, trust can grow. This is a back-and-forth process that happens in relationships, whether it’s between people or the relationships between parts of your self. It’s much more of an experience rather than a logical process, so I try to offer safety in the following ways:
My role is to be aware of non-verbal indicators that you need more to feel safe, because it’s not always possible to say something isn’t right. As a trauma-informed therapist I might look for signs of hyper-arousal (active stress responses such as restlessness) and hypo-arousal (passive stress responses such as flattened emotions). Working with you to recognise and respond to these means increasing your sense of safety in therapy, as well as your ability to control this for yourself outside of appointments.
I don’t do unnecessary silences. ‘Unnecessary’ is the key word here. There are many times where silence is helpful, but there’s a fine line between that and being anxiety-inducing when someone already feels under a spotlight in therapy. It’s also a two-way conversation, so I’ll be as proactive as you in turning up to work together.
You/we don’t have to sit for the whole appointment: movement is allowed and welcome. This can help regulate your emotions, physical feelings of distress/stress, and manage over/under stimulation if you’re neurodivergent. I can offer ways to practise this if needed, and we can always pause/stop. We always keep a distance from each other, respecting our physical boundaries.