Alright friends, let’s talk about one of my favorite topics: safe spaces!
If you’ve heard about safe spaces before, chances are you know of the flak they’ve received. Some folks believe that safe spaces shouldn’t exist because they pose a threat to free speech in learning environments. The reason safe spaces exist isn’t to hamper free speech; safe spaces ensure that all individuals can engage in an environment without fearing the risk of retraumatization. With 70% of Americans having experienced some sort of trauma in their lifetime, it is vital that we explore strategies that prohibit retraumatization within a number of spaces.
As a therapist, I prioritize making my office as safe of a space for my clients as possible. This is something I would tell my clients during our initial session together, and it was usually met with nods of understanding. One thing that I’ve come to regret about these interactions is that we fail to have a conversation of what dictates a safe space. Overtime, I’ve come to the realization that it is not my place to deem my office a safe space. Whether or not my office is a safe space is determined by my client; and as their therapist, it is my duty to foster as safe of a space as possible.
After coming to this realization, I made an effort to modify my language when discussing safe spaces with clients.
Instead of saying: My office is a safe space, so please feel comfortable sharing whatever you like during our time together.
I say: As your therapist, I will do my best to foster as safe of a space for you as possible. I do, however, understand that only you can define was truly is a safe space. If I say anything that puts the safety of this space in danger, I encourage you to bring it up to me either during or after our session together.
Not to toot my own horn (toot toot), but I love this modified way of bring up safe spaces. It is client-centered, and it discusses the bidirectional flow of information that happens during therapy that I love so much. A client is going to be the expert of their own experience, and it is important for them to feel heard about their experience in session. By welcoming critiques of my own language, my goal is to empower my clients to use their own voice in addressing their concerns during therapy--especially if they counter what I have to say.
When there is an intention to make a particular place safe, there is a prohibition of any language that serves to disempower, danger, or trigger others within the environment. Here are some ways that you can foster safe spaces in whatever environment you’re working in.
Educate yourself on ways that people have felt marginalized within their environments.
A big component of this is reading up on microaggressions. Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership. Well-meaning people use microaggressions all the time without realizing that what they said was offensive. If you are ever called out for saying a microaggression--even when you didn’t mean to offend--the best thing to do is to thank the person for bringing it up, and then apologize for saying it. That’s it.
Empower your clients by encouraging a bidirectional flow of information during therapy.
One of my goals for all of my clients is for them to feel empowered during therapy. One of the ways I try and foster this is to welcome their opinions and viewpoints during session together, even if they are different from my own. Their insights are valuable because they provide more context when it comes to how they live their day-to-day lives. I may have a sense of what their lived experience is like, but only they can tell their own story.
When approached with critiques, listen and thank your client.
It can be hard to take criticism sometimes, especially when it’s in regards to your job. If you’re a therapist, chances are you’ve had to endure a number of unpaid internships and lots of hard schooling in order to get to where you are today. You may feel like an expert in what you do, but in order to truly be an expert, you must also understand that the learning process never ends.
No matter what, I thank my clients anytime they take the time to offer constructive criticism into session. It can take a lot of courage for clients to stand up for themselves during therapy, and it shouldn’t go unnoticed. On top of this, I make sure to listen to what my clients have to say. If I expect my clients to listen to what I have to say, I also have to hold myself to the same expectations.
Counseling Intern Level 2