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    The Attachment Dance With Clients

    The work done with Circle of Security © tells us that by age 11 months infants can identify if the needs they have make their caregiver uncomfortable or not. If a caregiver is uncomfortable with allowing a child to explore the child will develop a strategy of “being clingy” to maintain connection with that caregiver. If a caregiver is uncomfortable welcoming a child in when they have big feelings or need safety the child will develop a strategy of “having no needs” to maintain connection with that caregiver. 

    I was sitting in session once with a client that I had been working with for quite some time. I found myself feeling curious about our work at the beginning of our relationship compared to the present-day work. When we first started working together, they seemed so open, eager, and willing to experiment with different interventions. However, as our work continued over the years I noticed  the client was less open, and not quite as eager. I check in frequently with clients about our relationship, my approach, our goals, and how the direction of our work is feeling – and my client confirmed they were happy with the work we were doing. 

    So what was I noticing? Was I perceiving the client as less open or less eager, but actually the client’s authentic adult-self had shown up due to the safety of our relationship? Had there been a rupture I wasn’t aware of that created less safety in the room for the client to be open and eager? Was the client simply in a season of needing to use a strategy of being less open and eager to maintain regulation? As many of our listeners know I LOVE, LOVE Circle of Security ©. My mind naturally wandered to, “What is the comparison of 11 months of age in child/parent time to treatment session number in client/therapy time?” At what session does the client begin to take note of what the therapist is and is not comfortable with, and do they use the same strategies they did as an infant, or does a new strategy arise? I don’t have the answer to these questions…yet! Stay tuned for an episode where Abby and I explore this further, and potentially have found some answers. 


    For more questions like these, and themes around attachment showing up in the therapy space for both therapist and client check out the live recorded Coffee and Chat under the “store,” section. 

    Safety is the Foundation

    Safety is the foundation of all therapy. Our clients typically come to us because they are not feeling safe in some aspect of their life (internally or externally). Our nervous system is always scanning for danger. If therapists are not intentionally creating safety in the therapeutic relationship and are not attending to the safety throughout the relationship the therapeutic work cannot move forward. There are some areas we can begin to look at to assess how safe the space is for our clients. 

    Physical Environment: 

    Is the location of your practice in a safe place?

    What other businesses are around? Is there a Police Station, ER, or Fire House nearby? Could the sirens be activating for clients? 

    Are there other sounds that might create sense of danger for clients? 

    Are there smells that might be overwhelming for clients? 

    Is the space organized in a manner that brings a sense of calm? 

    *If you are not feeling safe in the physical space of your practice it is likely your clients will not either because it is truly not safe, or their automatic nervous system will pick up on your sense of safety and register it as a threat. 


    Are you present with the client? 

    Are you attuned with the client?

    Do you find yourself thinking of your next/previous client, your weekend plans, grocery list, etc.?

    Are there factors that both of you are aware of that no one is naming out loud (i.e. rupture, race, gender, age, CPS report, scheduling or payment conflict, etc.)? 

    *There are many times that something out of our control can trigger the fight, flight, or freeze response for a client due to their lived experience. If we can be present, attuned, and regulated ourselves this can be worked through and provide a corrective experience for our clients. When clients receive these corrective experiences, they can then use these skills in relationships outside of the therapeutic relationship. Lastly, give yourself permission to refer out. If safety cannot be created in the relationship the therapeutic work cannot be done. 


    Check out the following podcast episodes for more on this topic: 

    Season 2: Episode 2 and 9

    Co-Journeyers to a Client's True Self

    If you know me, you know that books were my first love. I spent my initial decade of life homeschooled and while friends were in short supply, I was ever-accompanied by stories. Now as an adult with a few more relationships, the stacks of books still litter the house and my eyesight continues to worsen from late-night reads. In recent years I’ve fallen in love with John O’Donohue’s work. His compilation of blessings, “To Bless the Space Between Us” holds a few lines that have stayed with me as I consider the intersectionality between Interpersonal Neurobiology (IPNB), the therapist’s role, and the client’s journey of becoming. He writes:


    “May you be blessed with a wise and compassionate guide

    Who can accompany you through the fear and grief

    Until your heart has wept its way to your true self.”  


    As I consider the therapist’s role as a companion and co-journeyer with a client on the returning to their “true self,” I feel the muscles around my eyes relax and my breathing deepen. We do not create a client’s true self – it’s something they already have, and have had, within them all along. They simply needed safety and relationship to return there. 

    How might the phrase a “compassionate guide” lend itself to embodying regulation in your therapy space? Can you carry the felt sense of both the ease in radical presence, and the weight that comes with the sacred honor to witness our client’s “fear and grief”? 



    *To read the full excerpt, see “For Someone Awakening to the Trauma of His or Her Past: To Bless the Space Between Us by John O’Donohue”