July 29, 2002
Safety - Part Two: The Safe Therapist
If safety is the key to healing, then the essential issue is how to create that safe environment. This is an important question both for those who seek to heal and those who wish to assist.
To recognize illness we need to be aware of what health is. In this case it is helpful to form a picture of a childhood in which all of the child's needs are met. In the Thought of the Week, "Being Natural - Without Artifice," this subject is explored at greater length.
An ideal childhood is not actually "ideal" (just an idea) but a very real genetic imperative that the organism uses like a blueprint. When this genetic imperative is followed, a child's life will look very different than what many of us are used to. From conception onward, the baby is wanted and nurtured by her mother's body. At full term, she experiences labor and birth as a vigorous massage - a powerful, victorious dance with her mother. She is born alert, treated gently, and remains in immediate contact with her mother. She receives comfort and sustenance by breastfeeding, and she is carried and protected with love by her mother, father, and other family members. She is treated as both welcome and worthy.
As this young human grows, all her needs for physical and emotional nurturing, support, protection, and stimulation are met. All of her emotions, perceptions, and impulses are accepted by her and her family. Her united bodymind, like that of all healthy wild animals, is free to feel and express fear, hurt, sadness, anger, love, pleasure, and joy. She carries no blockages and has total access to the perception of life-as-it-is.
This state of living is our natural birthright, and as Paul Simon says in his song "Train in the Distance," "The thought that life could be better is woven indelibly into our hearts and our brains."
This state of living is also a prerequisite to healing if we have been damaged by neglect and abuse. But, if we have lost contact with that state, how can we find it in order to heal? In childhood, this state is offered and maintained by our parents, and when we are healing, this state must be offered by our therapist or those who support our healing.
Therefore, it is the responsibility of the therapist to reproduce, as closely as possible, the environment created by an ideal parent. This requires that the therapist/facilitator be as clear of emotional damage as possible, since it is unresolved pain and need in the parent that causes problems in the child. This is a tall order, but is the essence of the statement "physician heal thyself." All those who wish to assist others must continue to heal themselves. And when therapists experience their own healing journey, they know the emotional "terrain," which is reassuring to those they support. The most reliable mountain guide is one who has actually been up the mountain!
Any therapist/facilitator who wishes to create a safe healing environment will find it useful to seriously consider the following:
• Continue your own process of deep emotional healing. When you can witness the extreme emotional eruptions of your clients without being personally disturbed, you will be better able to support. An unbalanced therapist is an unsafe therapist.
• Train with experienced therapist/facilitators who are successful and effective. Continue a mentorship relationship with them. Communicate closely with other dedicated colleagues. An isolated, untrained therapist is an unsafe therapist.
• Get your needs met through your own means and with people other than your clients. A needy therapist is an unsafe therapist.
• Only touch clients when it is therapeutically appropriate and when you have their clear consent. Human contact is an important part of healing and life, but is too often abused. A therapist with confusing physical boundaries is an unsafe therapist.
• Be sure you can commit to your clients' process for as long as it will take. A therapist who will quit or leave is an unsafe therapist.
• Be reliable even with minor issues such as scheduling. Safe things are things you can "count on." An unreliable therapist is an unsafe therapist.
• Let clients direct their process as much as possible and give clients the power to accept or reject therapeutic options. A controlling therapist is an unsafe therapist.
• Treat clients with essential respect, appreciation, and value. A judgmental therapist is an unsafe therapist.
• Assist your clients in creating security and protection both in and out of session. Clients will often not open up in session if life at home is unsafe. A therapy that makes one vulnerable to more injury is an unsafe therapy.
• Create a physical environment where clients can express themselves fully and without hurting themselves, you, or the room itself. Be sure they can be expressive without fear of being heard or interrupted. A therapy that does not protect is an unsafe therapy.
Although there are many more items that could be added, this list is an example of the type of environment that supports natural healing. It is the obligation of everyone who wishes to support others to become, in themselves, a safe environment.