That’s because for many trauma patients, sometimes even a friendly face or a gesture of compassion can feel unsafe, even threatening.
So what are some key ways we can avoid triggering clients and foster stronger feelings of safety?
In the video below, three leading experts share their strategies. Check it out – it’s about 3 ½ minutes.
Dr. Buczynski: Re-establishing a sense of choice and control can be critical for people who’ve experienced trauma. Now, there’s a lot we can do to reinstate choice and control for our clients. In fact, how we arrange the office can make a big difference.
Dr. Levine: One of the things that I generally do is I have my seat and the client’s seat at right angles, actually. And the reason for that is so they don’t have to look at me if they don’t want. They also know that they can go inside, and I’ll be here. If they need me, then we can make contact this way. I find it gives a lot of flexibility.
Dr. Buczynski: There’s one more critical piece to consider when thinking about choice and safety, and that’s the office door. This is another place where treatment can go wrong because the way that we set up our office can inadvertently put our clients in a defensive state.
Dr. Levine: One of the things I also discovered – and this was when I was working with a lot of Vietnam vets in the 70s and 80s – I realized it by making the mistake. If I was in the way of a client coming to the door to the room, that would be experienced as extremely dangerous. I mean, you don’t necessarily think about that. So, I made absolutely sure that they had a clean way to the door, even if I had to rearrange where I was sitting.
Dr. Buczynski: Now this isn’t only for veterans, we need to keep this in mind when we’re working with anyone who’s felt trapped in a moment of danger. In so many of my conversations with trauma experts, they emphasized how important it is to uncover and work with our clients’ strengths. In fact, Ruth Lanius actually takes a strengths inventory.
Dr. Lanius: I usually ask, “Tell me about your strengths.” And usually people will say to me, “I have none.” I will say to them, “Well, what I’ve noticed with you, just being here for half an hour, is that you seem to be incredibly persistent. Tell me about that persistence.” Then usually, that gets them talking a little bit, and as they talk about one strength, often that leads to the next.
Dr. Buczynski: Now I’d like to hear from you. How will you use these ideas with your clients today? Please leave a comment in the comment section right below this video, and I’ll be back soon, and thanks for watching.
What strategies have you found effective for helping clients feel safe after trauma? Please share your comment below.