Safety in the helping relationship


5 May 2010 |  for trainees | by Bill, writer at UK & Ireland Counsellor Directory


Safety in the helping relationship often refers to the client's emotional safety and physical safety. But the helper's safety is important too.

Emotional safety

Creating a sense of emotional safety for the person being helped involves:

  • building trust: through the use of rapport skills
  • being genuine: a sense of congruence from the helper
  • valuing and accepting the person - what in the Person-Centred approach is called Unconditional Positive Regard
  • Being empathic - and feeding back sensitively that empathic understanding
  • a commitment to confidentiality
  • setting clear boundaries so the person knows where they stand. For instance there are limits to confidentiality which might come from:

    • legal requirements to disclose eg. a court order for client notes
    • safety considerations: serious risk of harm to themselves or others
    • supervision: the need for the helper to get professional support
    • contractual requirements: related to the organization in which the helper is working
  • creating an environment where the person feels secure, eg a warm, comfortable setting, not in danger of being overlooked or overheard

Physical Safety

Physical safety relates to aspects such as:

  • avoiding physical risks, like slippery surfaces, hot surfaces, sharp objects, electrical supplies
  • providing adequate fire exit routes
  • meeting other Health and Safety requirements, especially in an organisational setting

Helper safety

Helper safety is an issue too. As well as the above aspects of physical safety, in some contexts the helper might have to safeguard against the possibility of harm from the person they are helping. Such safeguards might involve:

  • contracting with a person with a history of physical aggression that they will not direct their aggression towards the helper
  • sitting nearest the door
  • carrying a personal alarm
  • making sure someone else is in the building or the room
  • choosing not to work with that person

Ensuring emotional safety for the helper might involve support from a person in a supervisory role or other organizational backup, and making sure that the workload for the person in the helping role was appropriate to maintaining their health and well-being.


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