Safety First!

So, I’m reading this article and it got me thinking about safety.  Let me start first with a passage from that article:

“This quote from my mentor Diana Fosha, [2] founder of Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy, sums [it] up:

The roots of resilience are to be found in the felt sense of being held in the mind and heart of an empathic, attuned, and self-possessed other. We want to provide that felt-sense kind of empathic listening that creates the conditions for those roots of resilience moment-by-moment:

Ah, the comfort,
The inexpressible comfort
Of feeling safe with a person.
Having neither to weigh out thoughts
Nor words,
But pouring them all right out, just as they are,
Chaff and grain together;
Certain that a faithful hand
Will take them and sift them;
Keeping what is worth keeping and,
With the breath of kindness,
Blow the rest away.
—Dinah Craik
A Life for a Life, 1859”

So, we talk about certain things in the therapy world quite often and like so many other places in life, words are over-used, mis-used, or just plain misunderstood. Safety, is a great one to start with. And because I have a love of words and their meaning, let’s start with a definition of safety from

noun safe·ty \ˈsāf-tē\
Simple Definition of safety
: freedom from harm or danger : the state of being safe
: the state of not being dangerous or harmful
: a place that is free from harm or danger : a safe place

This idea of safety, specifically personal safety, may be new, or completely foreign to some of you reading this. When you really think about it; what is safety?  How do you know you’re safe?  How does your body know that it’s safe?

Now, let’s put this in to the context of Therapy.  What does it mean to feel safe in a therapy session?  Well, in my experience you can’t just tell someone that they’re safe.  It’s like saying, “Let me be honest with you. . .”  A not unusual response to that statement, “I Don’t Trust You”.  So safety is something that You feel. And that can take time. Because, at the end of the day, when you first meet your therapist, they are a stranger.  And it is not weird or f*ed up that you don’t immediately feel safe or trusting with your therapist.  In fact, there is a chance that what’s brining you to therapy, is the experience of not feeling safe with people.

Over time, you will have a felt sense of safety based on in-the-moment experiences with your therapist. When I think about creating a sense of safety in a session I think about showing up with: consistency, integrity, gentle curiosity, kindness, acceptance and patience.  And most importantly, the session is Your time so You decide when and how much you want to share.  My job is to support you in that process without causing more harm.

Ok, so right now. . .just check in and see just how your body is responding to these questions.  Are you suddenly more aware of your surroundings?  Notice that you’re feeling tired?  Or maybe you feel more at ease after a quick scan of your surroundings?  My intention here is to simply name that bringing your attention to this idea of safety, may (or may not) have an effect on your state of being right Now.

And if you do find yourself feeling a little less safe, take this moment to look around and take stock of your environment:  Look at 5 blue things, and Breathe.  Listen to 4 different sounds, and Breathe.  Name 3 things you can smell, and Breathe.  Find 2 things that you can imagine the taste of, and Breathe.  Notice 1 thing that your hands are touching, and Breathe.

This is a simple thing that you can do almost any where, any time, without anyone noticing what you’re doing.  And if they do, eh.  You deserve to feel safe.
All the time.  Everywhere.  No exceptions.