Firstly the counsellor is congruent, grounded in the here and now, regulated in a social engagement nervous state and able to psychologically engage with the client. Similar to Carl Roger, the founder of the Person-centred approach to counselling, as described in the necessary and sufficient conditions of therapeutic personality change, (Rogers, 1957). Stephen Porges, discussed the parasympathetic state of the social engagement state of the autonomic nervous system as being the foundation of connection with another person and able to communicate a safe space by open body language, tone of voice, facial expression and a deep calm state of the nervous system, which flows from one person to another in connection.
Once an atmosphere of safety is established and the client is able to identify the counsellor as being open and non-judgemental, the relationship can begin. An acceptance of the client for being themselves and an empathetic understanding conveys to the client that they are being heard and understood.
The client's nervous state may be in the sympathetic state of incongruent, fight/flight or dorsal shutdown and it is important for them to feel held in a social engagement, safe anchor, to be with the client, where they are in the moment. As Deb Dana mentioned, offering the client an awareness of their inner self can support an acceptance of their autonomic nervous state, and understanding of how the client unconsciously reacts to threat, (Dana, 2021).
The counsellor is a safe other, who co-regulates the dysregulated client, gently and at their pace, similar to staying with their frame of reference within the Person-centred approach, meeting the client in the moment and tentatively moving into a safe connection.
This attunement motives the relationship of both counsellor and client connecting psychologically in safety. The core conditions of acceptance, empathy and congruency are merged within the anchor of co-regulation and social engagement to connect deeply with the inner senses of the client.
Feeling safe, heard, listened to, understood, accepted, both internally and in person, can support a client to understand their own inner workings and connect the body and mind through awareness of the nervous system and how it moves into protection unconsciously. Bringing this into awareness gives the client knowledge, awareness and helps them to regulate their own reactions by offering a choice.
Dana, D., (2021) "Anchored, How to Befriend Your Nervous System Using Polyvagal Theory", Colorado, Sounds True.
Rogers, C., (1957) 'Six Necessary and Sufficient Conditions of Therapeutic Personality Change', Journal of Consulting Psychology, 21: 95-103.