Recently, I went on a therapeutic retreat to learn about equine-facilitated psychotherapy. During the event, our facilitator, Sara, spoke about how animals will “find their spot.” Coincidentally, while she was talking, a horse in our line of sight began rubbing her backside on a post, then a tree. Sara told us the horse had found her spot and was scratching it. It was safe and gave her comfort and relief.
This got me thinking about my animals. We have two beagles. Tatum Marie, our 9-year-old, has lived with us since she was 6 weeks old, with no history of trauma. The other, Chandler Wayne, is a 14-month-old rescue and came from a puppy mill amongst 40 other dogs.
What Is Your “Spot”?
I know exactly where and how to scratch Tatum Marie to make her happy, still, and content. I also know her favorite place to lie around and relax. With Chandler Wayne, however, the spot has yet to be found. At times, it’s as if his whole body is the spot, wanting to be rubbed and petted—not able to get enough. Other times, he hides under the bed and is afraid of being touched. The trauma he experienced in his young life keeps him from being able to enjoy the consistent safety of another being’s presence and touch, so the isolation under the bed becomes his spot.
Sara spoke of Thera, an abused mustang she had acquired over 10 years ago. Environmentally, the arena is her spot—her safe place. Sara is still working with the mustang, helping her see she is surrounded by safety as she is teaching, grooming, and caring for her. She respects Thera and understands without language how to recognize her boundaries so she can begin to feel safe and comfortable.
The Importance of Finding Your Spot
Helping clients find their spot is key in creating a space for safety and healing during therapy. I’m not speaking of scratching their forehead; we want to help them find their space environmentally and physically with relation to how safe they feel sharing their story, setting boundaries, and experiencing comfort and restoration.
My office is an arena. My job as a therapist is to create a safe vessel in which to work and heal. Trust is paramount. When a client walks into the office, I am humbled by their willingness to step into the arena. When I see clients struggling to find their spot, I know I have an important and sacred role in assisting with this process.
Helping clients find their spot is key in creating a space for safety and healing during therapy.For clients who have experienced trauma, finding their spot may be difficult. Living in a constant state of hypervigilance, learning to live in the present, feeling safe, and trusting oneself and others can be challenging work.
When trust has been damaged in a relationship, being willing and able to share one’s spot with a partner can take time, as trust must be healed and reestablished.
How to Help Clients Find Their Spot in Therapy
Encouraging clients to find their spot is about holding space for them and not controlling the pace. It’s providing safety, allowing them to have a voice when it comes to boundary setting, and encouraging that voice be heard. Modeling the safety provided in the office arena allows the patient to begin recognizing and searching for safety outside the office and to find their other spots in the world.
And what about my spot? Personally, professionally, socially, relationally? Do I know where that is? Can I have more than one spot? Am I scratching my spot enough? For me, all these questions relate to my own self-care—making certain I have held space for myself and set clear boundaries about what is okay and not okay in all the arenas of my world.
Watching Thera find her spot and scratch it in the arena was a moment of unadulterated joy for me. The same is true when I experience a client face the courage to show up in my office, be brave, and share their story. And if I’m fortunate enough, I have the privilege of witnessing them find their spot and scratch it.
If you are struggling to “find your spot” in the world, a therapist may support you in the process of doing so.
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