I recently read Barry Mason’s concept of safe uncertainty which he initially coined as a systematic family therapist. He used a four-quadrant model to describe the concepts of unsafe uncertainty, safe uncertainty, safe certainty, and safe uncertainty within a therapeutic model. Having read his paper, it has made me consider how this applies to my counselling practice and where in general terms do my clients ‘sit’ within this model.

When I consider a client, who is mostly in ‘safe certainty’, I imagine that they would inhabit a narrow viewpoint, be inflexible, in denial and defensive, feel safe holding such a position and certain that they are right.

I have seen this in certain people where they are 100% sure they are in the ‘right’, that only their position is the one and where they defend it unequivocally.

A client who is mostly in ‘unsafe certainty’, is likely to step to blame others, feel and be helpless, is reactive and struggles to deal with the unexpected.

Such people are more likely to step into ‘victim’ role and feel sorry for themselves.

A client who presents mostly as ‘unsafe uncertain’ lacks direction, is fearful, wants to control everything, micromanage, not change, and do nothing. For such people, the world is very scary and unsafe; they feel out of control and thus have to be in charge of everything.

A client who is mostly in the ‘safe uncertain’ quadrant, is confident, hopeful, open to personal growth and learning and shows resilience.

Mason suggests that the two type of clients who seek therapeutic support fall into the categories of ‘unsafe certainty’ and ‘unsafe uncertainty’; surely, we also see clients who present as ‘safe uncertain’, the ones who readily soak up the therapeutic process, are fully engaged and motivated, take self-responsibility and ‘heal’.

Furthermore, is not my aim as a counsellor to also empower my clients to move from ‘unsafe certainty’ and ‘unsafe uncertainty’ to ‘safe uncertainly’ whilst I too continually ensure that I work from this position, where within a therapeutic safe space I am curious and open to possibilities; and surely, this represents Carl Rogers’ core conditions of unconditional positive regard, congruence and empathy.

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