The Comfort Zone

I was teaching a group of paediatric therapists recently and we were discussing the challenges they encounter connecting with children and parents in the face of dwindling funding for visits. The discussion caused me to remember an event in my early practice.  A few years after I began working, I attended a course taught by a therapist who would become my mentor over the next decade.  During treatment demonstrations, she had the ability to bring out the best skills in a child, every single time.  I said to myself “I want to learn how to do that ”.  I didn’t know it at the time but that wasn’t her ability to facilitate movement or treat soft tissue, it was the ability to create a relationship with that child, to connect, in just seconds. And I now understand that this relationship is not built on the need for the child to perform or to comply with our plan for the session, but on an unconditional, positive acceptance for who that child is in that moment.  Secure attachment is created when we value the comfort of that child over the compliance to our plans and expectations.  There’s magic in that comfort zone – when a child feels safe and secure in a relationship, they will take risks – risks in how they move, risks in what they say, risks in how they think and learn. In that relationship, they know they will be safe no matter what they do.  And what they choose to do is amazing.  This kind of relationship between the therapist and the child also supports the therapist’s relationship with the parents.  As a mom, I know that I will listen carefully to a professional if I trust that they “get” my child.  Such is the beauty of attachment; it can positively impact everyone involved.

The need for attachment doesn’t end as the child grows older.  All our children need to feel safe as they find their way in the world.  I am experiencing that my adolescent clients are even more in need of secure attachment, as they explore who they are becoming.  And I know you’ve already guessed this; as therapists we can also create secure attachment with parents in just a few seconds; when we can do that, they too feel safe from judgement and pressure, and will enter into a positive relationship with us that serves their children.

So I suggest in this new year we begin to approach therapy in a slightly different way.  When we are with a child, let’s consider the first step in the session to be attachment. In those moments we consciously let go of worrying about whether this child is on track to achieve the long-term goals, the short-term goals, the next step – whatever the pressure is that we are feeling.  We begin by accepting that child for who they are right now and join with them in creating the treatment session.  You’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish together in this comfort zone.



My friend Kim Barthel refers to this as “watch, wait and wonder”.  As you enter in to the session with a client, take a breath in and consciously breathe it out. Softly make eye contact. If the child isn’t comfortable with this, don’t force it; match their eye contact and keep your mood calm and relaxed and gently observe their movement/body language/responses.  The key is time; if it takes a while for the child to feel comfortable, then sit with them in that time and create the space with you as a comfort zone.  


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One thought on “The Comfort Zone

  1. So great. It is very well described. The magic of attunement is far beyond imagination.