Introduction A safe space for a client could be described as a place or space in which a client feels secure and free to express him/herself in a real, true and open way. This could mean a number of things to different clients, it is very individual. What makes a person feel safe? 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, what you are saying or trying to say and what you are feeling or experiencing Feeling that the counsellor is ‘true’ and genuine in the relationship, his/her real self Knowing that the counsellor will hold anything said in absolute confidentiality The counsellor is focused on you and working off your agenda The counsellor firmly believes that you are the one and only authority on yourself The counsellor fosters deep trust between you and his/herself The actual setting of the counselling is private and professional and you do not feel that you will be overheard or misrepresented in any way The counsellor has put in place adequate boundaries for your safety and also his/her own.
Boundaries can be personal, professional and physical There is equality between you and the counsellor ie you don’t get the feeling that the counsellor has all the answers nor do you have a sense of mystery or secrecy about the process Some of the points I have made above are self-explanatory but I will go into many of them in much greater depth as follows. Core Conditions Rogers found that there were six such conditions and they are: That the therapist and the client are in psychological contact ie there are no obvious blocks to contact being made between the two and both are ‘present’ and willing to work together as much as possible given the client’s circumstances.
The client is in a state of incongruence as Rogers would have called it, other ways of describing this could be anxiety or neurosis. The therapist is congruent or genuine in the relationship ie the therapist is REAL and AUTHENTIC. This does not mean that counsellors have to be perfect human beings but rather that the client can see that what they are saying, doing and feeling match the way they truly feel on the inside. Boundaries Boundaries can be described as a set of personal, professional and physical limits that help to put a structure on a relationship in general, for the benefit of all parties involved. They help create a safe space, help avoid misunderstanding and facilitate the counsellor in not becoming over-involved in the clients world.
In order for a client to feel safe, it is very important that they are aware of certain boundaries that are in place within the therapeutic relationship, this will allow them the space and the freedom to explore their experiences, feelings, thoughts, desires, emotions etc Any type or behaviour, reference, attitude, contact etc from the therapist that can make the client feel threatened or uncomfortable may destroy any sense of safety that the client may have had. The effects of inefficient boundary management or boundary violations are severe for clients, counsellors and the profession in general. It is the therapist’s responsibility that the client is made aware of these boundaries whether implicitly or explicitly and that the boundaries be managed and maintained. If a client loses a sense of safety and trust in his/her therapist it can be very difficult if not impossible to re-establish. The therapeutic process may be irrevocably damaged or destroyed. Confidentiality
Without total confidentiality there is no way any client will feel safe enough to be entirely open with his/her counsellor, this could be extremely detrimental on the entire process. The client must know that any disclosures they make will be protected to the highest degree. Trust Trust is a fundamental part of any relationship, I believe, but particularly the therapeutic relationship. Many people will go to therapy because they have had previous bad or traumatic relationships which have left them damaged or traumatised in some way, quite often these relationships were with their parents when they were children. They have learned the danger and not to trust the very people they believed should most be trusted. I believe it can be even more fundamental and damaging than this still, they have also earned not to trust in themselves- to have the ability to know who is safe to trust or not. The relationship with the therapist then can become something like a ‘re-parenting’ or a re-learning of how a trusting relationship should/could have been with one’s parents. Most people will agree that parents should (in a perfect world) give their children unconditional positive regard, empathy and be relatively non-judgemental with them, also show them respect and allow them to keep their dignity. Unfortunately this is not always the case. It is therefore even more important that the therapeutic relationship between counsellor and client show all these things to the highest of degrees.
However, if this aspect of trust and safety is not present it can actually do more harm than good to clients that are already vulnerable and anxious. It can, in fact be retraumatising and compound their possible views of themselves as being unlovable or unworthy etc, unable to trust themselves to know who to trust or just plain defective in some way. A very important factor to take into account here is that the length of time that a person may be in therapy may be significantly longer than other therapies due to the nature of building a trusting relationship. I have found this to be true in my own experience of undergoing the counselling process. I have been in counselling for over a year and a half now.
I can honestly say that I have only truly felt safe and genuinely able to feel trust in my counsellor in the last four to six months. Conversely if I had been asked before this I would probably have said ‘yes of course I feel safe and unthreatened’ but looking back now, in hindsight, I certainly did not and it took a considerable length of time for me to bring my ‘true’ or ‘genuine’ self into the relationship without fear of judgement or threat. Conclusion The counselling process is extremely complex and many of the theories and premises we deal with on a daily basis as counsellors are very abstract and difficult to conceptualise, they rely a lot more on feeling and experience. This idea of creating a ‘safe space’ for our clients is one such assumption.
In the preceding pages I have attempted to evaluate what this means, the importance of it and the therapist’s own role within the process. I do believe that it is fundamental to the therapeutic relationship and without it therapy and therefore growth and change cannot occur. It brings into account many of the other aspect of counselling that Rogers himself and most other therapist would hold as being essential, such as; the core conditions of empathy, congruence and unconditional positive regard; creating an equal and trustworthy relationship; the importance of confidentiality and ethics and of course the value of creating clear boundaries. BIBLIOGRAPHY
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