This week I’ve been reflecting on the power of providing safety in the counselling room, be that a physical space or online. In many ways the safety to speak your truth is the most sacred part of counselling. It means that you can voice those thoughts that you thought you could never speak out loud: perhaps you were avoiding them so well that you weren’t even fully aware of them. The same goes for those feelings: the ones you wish you didn’t have to endure, so you push them (consciously or unconsciously) out of your mind, and they are left to sit, unheard and unprocessed, deep in your body and soul.
Why is a safe space so important?
The ability to feel safe is incredibly important for all of us. In his Hierarchy of Needs, Abraham Maslow explained that human beings will struggle in any area of their life unless their basic needs are met. This includes shelter, nourishment, and of course, safety. However, in this day and age, I notice every day how hard it is to feel safe even in your own home. We are invaded by the news that lets us know what is happening outside of our front doors. We are attached to our social media accounts that can pop up with all kinds of unexpected images and information: including photos we wouldn’t choose to see, messages or contacts that unsettle us, or other media that can be worrying and upsetting. Our working and social lives can also be equally unstable and exhausting.
Anxiety in the modern world
Given how our hectic and overwrought our lives are these days, it is easy to understand how anxiety can become part of daily life for many of us. Anxiety is our bodies’ natural response to dangers, getting us ready for fight or flight. But when the worries and warning signs are constant, our general anxiety levels can be constantly elevated, and our bodies get used to being on high alert. This in turn means that when anything extra happens, like a difficult thought or memory pops up, or a stressful day at work, we end up with anxiety overwhelm, as our already elevated levels reach overload.
Safety is like an antidote to anxiety: our bodies produce oxytocin when we feel safe and secure, and this can help to lessen the effects of the anxiety hormones (adrenaline and cortisol). It’s all part of our natural biology, but in this modern world we need to become much more adept at helping ourselves to harness it, as we are open to external stressors constantly.
Safety to speak
Counselling is also about safety to speak your truth. Even if you are lucky enough to have good friends or family to talk to, you will notice how different it feels to be talking to a professional who is there to listen to you, and give you support without judgement. Often, we hide our true feelings from our families, because we don’t want to worry them, or we don’t think they will understand. It might be because whenever we try to talk to our friends, they try to fix the problem, when all we want is to for someone to listen. In counselling, you can say anything at all without needing to pretend that you are feeling ok, or that you can cope. This safety gives you real freedom.
It might be that there are things that you don’t feel ok to talk to people you know about. This could be something you want to understand about yourself, or about what has happened to you. It might be that you are worried that those around you won’t understand, or that you feel different. Counselling is a place where you can start to speak about such things with the protection of confidentiality, at your own pace.
Perhaps it is someone close to you who you need to speak about. In this case it is even more important that you seek out someone who can listen to you and be fully on your side, without having any opinions or other ties. You might feel guilty about how you feel, or perhaps you are anxious or scared about how the relationship is affecting you. Either way, in counselling you can say exactly what you feel, and be heard and understood.
Tend to yourself
The counselling space is all about safety. Whether online or in a physical room, it is about your time where you can tend to your needs with care and support. This safety allows you to be able to speak those truths that need to be heard and understood in order for you to move on with your life. It will help teach you and your body how to regulate in the face of constant anxieties. Most of all, you deserve a place or a time to feel safe, because this is the fundamental need in all of us.