In EMDR, the concept of a safe place is very important. It is essential preliminary resource work that has to be done before the main treatment begins, so that the client can make use of it as necessary during and after any sessions. It is important because if any unwanted reactions occur during the main EMDR treatment, the client has an internal place to retreat to where they can feel safe from any unpleasant thoughts or memories.

The concept is simple but can be surprisingly difficult for some clients to construct. Essentially the first step is to think about a place (real or fictional) where you might experience a sense of safety, well being and calm. This could be a place in nature like a favourite beach, lake or tree, or something more fictional like being up on a soft cloud in the air. It might be somewhere indoors, based on a memory of a beloved grandparent’s house, or something like a temple or place of worship. It could be a fortress or castle with lots of defences around the walls. The main thing is that wherever it is, the client is able to feel safe and protected.

Once the basic place has been brought to mind, the next step is to amplify the overall image of it in the client’s mind. This can be done by focusing on objects within the scene, or sounds or smells that might be present. The sound of gentle water waves lapping at a beach, the sound of a light breeze through trees, or the smell of a warm summer’s evening watching an intense sunset are just a few possibilities. Anything can be focused on that increases the client’s sense of safety and relaxation. People can be present within the scene too, such as family, friends or favourite fictional characters, or even a favourite animal or pet, as long as they help to bolster the client’s feelings of safety.

During the first EMDR treatment, we take time to help the client construct a strong safe place and let them relax there and absorb the feelings of safety before going any further with the treatment. For clients that have difficulty feeling safe anywhere, this is a particularly valuable exercise, and time is well spent continuing to work on it until it feels right to the client.

Once the image is strong, it can be anchored with a touch or sound, such as bilateral shoulder tapping by the client, or the sound of a singing bowl, or a favourite small object such as a stone or crystal. A keyword can be used if one comes to mind so that when the keyword is spoken or read the client automatically goes into their safe place where the feelings of safety are evoked and readily available. Sometimes the safe place can be reinforced with some slow eye movements, but this would usually be avoided with a highly sensitive client in case old traumatic memories are brought to the surface.

The safe place is a prerequisite for all further EMDR work. It can be helpful to have a think about what you might like to use as your safe place before making an appointment, so that when you come in you can create it easily and then quickly progress on to the main EMDR protocol itself.

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

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