This is also true in the arena of Inner Healing. When a person comes to you for help, the first thing you do is check to see if the environment is safe. Even after you have determined things to be "safe," it is your duty to periodically check in to make sure it stays that way.
How does one go about "checking the environment" when dealing with spiritual and emotional issues?
- Check the physical set up of the room you are using.
- How is the lighting?
- Is the temperature reasonable?
- Are there tissues nearby? (It is better for the person to start out near the tissues so they can choose to grab them instead of you later putting them in their hands or, worse yet, shoving them in their face.)
- Are phones set to silent or vibrate?
- Your voice can be loud enough to hear and still be gentle. Sometimes the person will actually feel more secure if they hear some authority in your voice. Watch how they respond as you speak and adjust accordingly.
- Body language and proximity tend to go together. Be aware if you are leaning in or kicking back. For some, leaning in gives the client a feeling of being listened to and cared for. For others, it makes them feel pressured and intimidated. One person may feel more at home if you kick back, while others may feel that you are not taking them seriously.
- Reading body language is largely about paying attention. Does the person look comfortable? I will discuss this a bit more later. Hint: If the client is stiff as a board or curled into a little ball, they are probably not feeling safe.
- This does not need to be a drawn out conversation. Give them five minutes of the session just to discover that you are human and not too scary.
- Use this time to observe how they speak and act when talking about things that are non-threatening to them. (Note that many are still nervous, especially if it is their first time meeting with you. They may not interact on a completely relaxed level, but it will still give you a decent baseline.) If they relax from that point on, you are fine. If you notice changes later and the person does not look relaxed, be aware that their level of anxiety may be increasing or their ability to be present may be decreasing. (It is also possible they are just getting tired or annoyed.)
- If you haven't already done it, purposely decide that you care. If you can care during the small talk, you will be able to care as issues arise.
- Ask for permission. In many ways, the fact that the person has come to you asking for help offers you a spiritual (and often emotional) authority. However, it honors the person when you ask for permission. i.e. "I would like to walk through forgiveness for your parents right now. Does that sound okay?"
- Give them freedom to not be dictated by your instructions. Often we expect people to close their eyes when we pray or when we ask them to visualize something. Not everyone is comfortable with this. I will often say something like, "If you are comfortable, go ahead and close your eyes and relax." If they do not close their eyes, it is fine. It is not unusual for someone who has experienced trauma to be uncomfortable closing their eyes, especially with someone they do not know. I also let people know from the very beginning that I am sometimes wrong and that I will not be offended if they disagree with something I say or do.
- Normalize! When you are in the session, nothing that is said should shock you - at least not in any way that would show on the outside. Everything about you should reflect acceptance. This includes your voice and facial expressions. And please try not to gasp.
- Do not yell at the person - even if your session turns toward spiritual deliverance. If you find yourself dealing with a demon, take authority and do what you need to do. But do it with honor. The person should come out of a deliverance time feeling special and loved, not dirty and shameful. What scares demons is how much you look like Jesus, not the volume of your voice.
- Body Language, Body Language, Body Language. Learn to read it. Tune in to the rhythm of your client's communication and notice when it changes. If the client has been talking freely and then there is silence, pay attention. It doesn't mean you have to fill the silence with your words, but notice it. Look for patterns. For example, a person rubs their forehead every time a sibling is mentioned. Make a note of it. Maybe they start to blink rapidly when you begin to talk about a parent or teacher. Pay attention.
As you read through this article, which tools are you already using? Which areas could use a bit more practice? What is one tool or technique that you will work to incorporate into your meetings right away? While we may never reach perfection, we can strive toward safer, more trauma informed interactions every day.