When first hearing the phrase, it can sound quite dramatic - a safe space to be heard. What does that actually mean in the counselling session? What does it mean for the client? And what as a qualified counsellor do I practice to ensure the client does have a space space to be heard? Well if we start with the fact many clients arrive in therapy feeling unwanted, unheard, misunderstood and excluded.
What Is the aim of A Safe Space To Be Heard?
A safe space for a client could be described as a place or space in which a client feels secure (contained) and free to express themselves in a real, true and open way. This could mean a number of things to different clients, it is very individual.
The list could include some or all of the following;
- Not feeling judged or criticised by the counsellor.
- Or that the counsellor is likely to not accept you if you share something ‘bad’.
- Feeling that the counsellor accurately understands you.
- The aesthetics of the therapy space - look, smell, looks cared for.
- Gets what you are saying or trying to say.
- Has an understanding of what you are feeling or experiencing.
- The counsellor has regular training/supervision
- Feeling that the counsellor is ‘true’ and genuine in the relationship.
- The counsellor is authentic - his/her real self.
- You feel you can "be yourself" with the counsellor.
- A space you feel listened to, wanted, valued and validated.
- You are heard yet when challenged - in a gentle, caring, kind manner.
- An environment having warmth of connection, rapport and compassion.
- The counsellor belongs to an association ( I belong to the BACP and follow their ethical guidelines).
For many clients they come to experience the therapeutic space as a safe haven, which offers protection whilst they improve their emotional wellbeing and recover.
How Can A Counsellor Create A Safe Space?
For me as a qualified counsellor in private practice I aim to create a safe therapeutic space by paying attention to both the physical and psychological dimensions of therapy. I am sensitive to the clients ‘frame’. The frame of therapy is everything that contains the therapeutic work. This includes
- the relationship between therapist and client,
- thoughts, feelings and sensations
- old/ new awareness and patterns
- the agreements about practical matters such as time, fees, cancellations
- and most importantly, ethical practice.
- defining the therapeutic task from the start gives clarity to what is possible within the frame of the therapy.
- it also adjusts any unrealistic expectations towards more realistic outcomes whilst also offering hope.
As a therapist I also help to regulate a clients emotional response if a client is feeling distressed. This is not unlike the good enough mother attuning to her child and helping it to settle if it is distressed. Or, another analogy, it is like a football coach helping his players to stay relaxed as well as focused as the big match approaches. This can include from simply being present for the client to practising a number of techniques with the client so they can take them away and incorporate them into their everyday life.
The ‘therapeutic attitude’ of the therapist holds important boundaries of time, space and ethics, and this creates an environment that feels like a protective bubble – this can help clients to feel that it is safe to begin the work. This take a degree of trust - which takes time to develop. To have a degree of caution and to wonder/ question if you can trust your therapist in my opinion is a perfectly healthy process.