On more than one occasion, I have had clients comment, “I’ve never been allowed to talk about this before.” The word “allowed” always stood out to me. They didn’t mean that someone had forbidden them to talk about a particular topic, but rather that they had a self-imposed silence brought about by a lack of safety. This lack of safety could be created by many things: fear of ridicule, fear of dismissal, fear of rejection, fear of conflict. The perception that the topic would cause a negative reaction was enough to take away a feeling of safety, and the person was silenced.
When I am working with a client, one of the most important things I can do is to create a safe space for the client where they can express themselves without experiencing conflict or judgment. This is the “power of the room.” When the room where we are working together becomes a place of safety, any topic can be freely processed. We can give ourselves permission to discuss anything.
At Live Oak we often talk about the difference between comfort and safety. Certainly some issues can cause discomfort in the room, but discomfort can be experienced while still keeping the feeling of safety. Communication between me and my clients and a strong therapeutic relationship help us to monitor feelings of comfort and safety, allow for discomfort within a safe space, and ensure a positive experience. Safety gives the power to the room, and the room provides the space for growth and change.
By Paul Wiemerslage, LCSW