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An open letter to counsellors and therapists

What is safer psychotherapy?

First of all, we should ask ourselves, what does safe mean, in the context of psychotherapy?

I know, from my own experience, as well as the experiences of my clients, that when we seek help, we are not always met with safety. Often, we are met with judgement or disbelief. This is even more so the case if we occupy social positions that can lead us to facing higher levels of discrimination— when we are people of colour, queer or transgender, disabled, fat, lower-income, houseless, neurodivergent, or of any number of these or other aspects of our physical or personal identities. These identities often shape the ways in which individuals and institutions can be violent towards us.

The question then becomes, for me as an emerging practitioner, as well as for all of us who are social workers, psychotherapists, or other helping professionals in the realm of mental health- how do we make our practices safer? How do we do this, knowing that it is impossible for our services to be always safe, in all circumstances and at all times, and being aware that the topics we take up with our clients or community members with whom we hold space may be triggering or bring up unresolved trauma?

I do not know the answer to this question yet, and truthfully, I may never know. That being said, I think it is the process of learning how to create safer spaces with clients and other members of our communities that is most important. Ultimately, it is more so about the relationships we create with those we work with, than any type of social justice theory that I may read about or understand.

Adopting a not-knowing and curious stance, while also realizing that my personal experiences, histories, and understandings lead me to never being fully able to be ‘not knowing’, is essential. It is this reflexive inquiry and dialectical understanding that guides my work. Through this mutual understanding, we can co-create a space that works for us. A space where we can be brave and take risks, but know that ultimately, the therapeutic relationship can support us.

What type of space will we co-create?

Maxime Vaillancourt, M.S.W. Candidate, Pre-Licensed Professional

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