A Simple Way of Building Safety in Therapy Sessions

When I was getting ready to open my new therapy space on Foregate Street in Worcester, as you may imagine, there was a a great deal of planning, lots of decisions to be made, and a surprising amount of details to be taken care of. In the midst of it all I found I needed to take time out to do something that may have seemed like a small detail or a finishing touch, that could wait for a quieter time, but for me, it was something that was close to the heart of my Gentle Changes approach – finding gentle ways of supporting safety, stabilisation and accessing inner resources.

The Gentle Changes approach is not a ‘head-only’ approach to therapy. Using our rational mind is important, but disconnected thinking does not get us very far in therapy: we are embodied, multi-sensing organisms and the Gentle Changes approach reflects that. I had been thinking for a while about having some beautiful stones on display in the therapy room, with words written on them that, at a glance, would give an indication of the values underpinning this type of therapy and the feelings that might accompany the experience of having the therapy. And also, importantly, I wanted the stones to be a supportive resource for clients to use, should they wish, in therapy and coaching sessions.

The process of gathering the stones, some of which had been in my garden, cleaning them and choosing then writing on them the most resonant words, felt like I was connecting more solidly with my purpose – setting up a space that would be perfect for offering a gentler kind of trauma and mental health therapy. Images of the word stones have become a way I can use to communicate instantly something that would take paragraphs to explain about my therapy practice. You may have seen some of these images on my website and social media. The words, those which are included, and those that are not, were chosen with care. I don’t claim the chosen words form a perfect list, but when I looked to see if there was a set already made which I could buy to save time during the run up to opening, I could not find what I needed. The words on these ready-made collections of stones were ‘inspirational’ or ‘positive’, and they have their place, but they weren’t right for my therapy practice. What I needed was a collection of words that supported the kinds of inner resources and states that would support safety and stabilisation, integration and healing: the foundations of the Gentle Changes approach.

Words stones can be resources for healing from trauma. Image shoes rounded pebbles with words including breathe, compassion, care, strength, safe, relax.
Choosing a stone during a session can help with grounding and accessing inner resources

Forced positivity is not good for trauma and mental health clients, especially when there is complex and developmental trauma (sometimes referred to as C-PTSD or complex post-traumatic stress disorder). Fake it till you make it, conscious, will-power driven attempts to change thoughts – these are things that can nudge traumatised people towards greater dissociation, particularly in the face of other stressors, and away from safe embodiment, presence and integration of traumatised parts. Gentle forms of support, drawing upon somatic and psychosensory methods encourage the emergence of new neural networks that enable us to be present and to FEEL safe. When my clients experience positive states (and they do!) it is as a spontaneous result of an internal shift having occurred. They have arrived at a more connected, safe and resourceful place as a result of the gentle, somatic and psychosensory therapy. It is not something that can be forced by positive thinking or trying.

Just holding a stone can elicit a change…

The solidity and weight of a stone held in the hands is a gentle, psychosensory cue towards grounding and embodiment. The stones are smooth but still have texture and they feel tactile and comforting. For people whose identity and worth has been invalidated and denied, the act of choosing the stone with the word that feels right in the moment can be a small, but powerful message that says,

“Who you are, what you need, and what you wish to express, matters.”

It signifies to the child-like part of ourselves who, early on, may have had curbed her natural urge to explore, be fully present in the world and fully express herself, that it may be safe, after all, to be yourself, to reach out, to choose, and follow where your feelings take you. Such a simple process, so important to being able to fully live in the world, can get blocked by traumas, abuse or early socialisation away from the right to confident and safe self-expression.

During moments of feeling stuck or blocked, an invitation to select a stone can help identify and connect with the inner resource which will bring a welcome shift into the felt sense of the problem. The simple act of choosing and holding a particular word stone, brings a new quality of energy into the inner sense of frustration, confusion, hurt, anger or powerlessness. At other times, at the point of shift in the felt sense, choosing a stone can feel affirming and strengthening of the emerging resourceful state. The words stones can be used in drawing a close to a session, to help connect with an inner resource which would feel helpful for the time between sessions. In groups, it can be an icebreaker or ending point or an additional source of support and comfort during a trauma-friendly, guided relaxation, or inner focusing process. In fact, once it is safe to re-open the therapy room after the current period of COVID lockdown, I am looking forward to finding new, creative ways to use the stones in therapy and with groups!

I’m all for using things to encourage and support our healing and wellbeing. I have compiled a free resource here which you can use to prompt you with ideas. You can even make your own word stones: which words would you choose on yours?

A collection of stones with words written upon them. the ones readable say kindness and hope
Words stones for connecting with inner resources