The power of connection

What do I mean by ‘the power of connection’ and just why do us counsellors talk about the importance of the relationship between client and therapist so much?

You might think that if you’re struggling with anxiety and pick a therapist because their website says they specialise in anxiety, then that’s the main thing, right?

Well, erm, not necessarily!

Why connection matters so much

We each have our own unique, highly sensitive, nervous system. It is finely tuned to detect both danger and safety and when it does so, we might feel uneasy and scared or calm and peaceful. That feeling you get when you walk into a room where no-one is speaking and yet you know an argument just took place. The feeling of discomfort you experience – right there, that’s your nervous system being brilliant at tuning in and alerting you to potential danger.

Looking at it another way, do you have a person (or even a pet) in your life, that when you’re with them you feel absolutely content and relaxed? Deb Dana calls this vital, safe, connection with others “co-regulation”.

What if I’ve not had good connections with others?

You may have grown up with adults dealing with illness, addiction, unhealthy relationships, their own trauma or other issues which put their own nervous systems under stress. And so your nervous system pick up those cues and signals of danger and stress and feels them too, even if you are safe.

When we are “dysregulated” in this way we find ourselves operating from our survival system of fight/flight/freeze. Here it is much harder for us to do things like accurately read facial expressions, understand another person’s intentions or meaning or respond appropriately to situations. It’s pretty tough to navigate life’s challenges from this survival state.

Safety, safety, safety

If relationships you’ve had, whether in childhood or adult life, have not always been consistent, nurturing or safe then choosing a therapist who you (and by that I mean your nervous system) can feel safe with is crucial. The calm presence of a counsellor, the care that they have for you, the gentle words they use, the soft gaze of their eyes, the warm tone of their voice, the slow pace of speech, their relaxed posture. All of these signals will, via co-regulation, bring safety to your nervous system. Think of it as ‘borrowing’ from the counsellor’s internal resources to enable you to build your own.

Once this is underway, then you can begin to learn your own ways of self-soothing, to find solutions to some of the difficulties you may be having or develop ways to challenge unhelpful patterns of behaving or thinking.

To find out more about ways to work with and support your nervous system, check out my Triggers and Glimmers blog.

Fernbank Counselling:

The power of connection

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