How can we use a Calm Place strategy to help us feel safe and grounded in and out of therapy?
A calm place is a strategy for helping with many kinds of distress, and is a key resource we help clients develop in trauma focused therapy. A calm place uses visualisation and imagery to work towards developing a sense of calm, and to soothe our nervous systems, helping to bring us back into our window of tolerance.
At Beyond the Clinic Room, we create calm places in therapy in partnership with the horses, and help create prompts for practicing these at home.
Let me be clear here - we are not saying that using a calm place will make emotional distress and the impact of traumatic experiences immediately disappear, but it can be one piece of the puzzle in expanding our window of tolerance, helping us feel more in control, and helping us feel safe enough to go onto exploring and processing traumatic experiences if helpful.
So how do we create a calm place?
1) Create an image in your mind of somewhere that feels calm - this can be a real or imagined place (but try to avoid a place where difficult things have happened). If you have an animal, you might want to imagine them in your calm place with you (more on this in a future post).
2) Really hold this place in your mind, and notice what’s around you with all of your senses. What can you see? Are there small details? What’s above you? And how about on the ground? What’s around? What can you hear? Birds? Trees in the breeze? Waves? Horses eating hay is a big one for me. Do the sounds stay the same? Or do they change? Can you smell anything? Are you sat down or standing up? What can you feel around you?
3 ) Notice how you feel in your body right now. Our aim here is helping your body feel more relaxed, or in a more neutral, calm state. Where can you feel that in your body?
4 ) Hold this place, feeling and body sensation in your mind, and add a cue word. This can be any cue word that reminds you of this place and how it makes you feel. It could also be a physical reminder like a sticker on the back of your phone. This links your cue word with your calm place and how it makes you feel - the goal is for you to be able to think of this cue word or look at the reminder and be able to take yourself to your calm place and soothe your body.
5 ) Practice. Like any skill, this needs practice to learn. It’s ok if your mind wanders - this is really hard at first. Things to help - can you try drawing your calm place? Is there a picture that reminds you of it? Or a video? Can you imagine creating a protective barrier around your calm place to help it feel safer?
You don’t have to spend a long time in your calm place, 10 seconds each day is a great place to start. With practice, your calm place can be a way to help ground and regulate your body when you need this, and you can take this with you anywhere.