The safe place isn’t working, what should I do? 

So the second most frequently asked question that comes to me in EMDR Supervision is, MY CLIENT CAN’T DO THE SAFE PLACE, when do we continue with our Phase 3 Assessment and Phase 4 Desensitisation work?

Disappointingly the answer often is IT DEPENDS. I know this can be really frustrating as an answer but this is when we need to find out more about the client and the particular circumstances you are in.

I always recommend that we try and start working on the trauma memories as soon as possible. If we look back to my blog last week, if we keep it simple, we can be ready to go.

Ask yourself what is the main aim of PHASE 2 PREPARATION? It is to prepare the client for trauma processing. So initially we’ve got to think about whether the client is safe, are there any risks to themselves or to others. and importantly, can they regulate their emotions. 

Now, I know this question’s really difficult because clients always come to our services because they’re struggling. So I think you’ve got to at the earliest stages, be teaching people emotional regulation techniques. There’s a lot of EMDR techniques and things that you can use as well as the safe place. But I’m also sure that from all your experience with therapy there are many other techniques you as therapists have in your toolbox to try. I think we are all used to working with people with high levels of expressed emotion.

So, for me in the phase two preparation work, there’s no harm in drawing upon a number of different models and different types of activities that will help your clients improve their emotional regulation.

So don’t discount EMDR  because the safe place isn’t working. You could try installing a safe object instead of a safe place. You can get the client to identify a calm feeling and install that. You could try using a different word instead of safe such as calm, relaxing, comforting (a lot of clients have never actually felt safe)  

In my experience, if I believe that a person is able to regulate, if they’re contained and safe and are keen and eager to start the processing work, then I would get going as soon as possible.

Remember in EMDR therapy at the heart of what we are doing is understanding that client’s problems in the here and now are caused by past trauma, so the quicker we can get into processing the trauma, the quicker we can go to provide relief for our clients. And that’s what I always tell myself, I want to be spending most of my work doing the desensitisation phase, because that’s where I see the most improvement with clients. 


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