Written by Kylea Taylor 

Why Safety Matters

Review by Gunnel Minett

There has been a tremendous change in our attitudes to safety over the years. In particular when it comes to caring for children. Many of the things which those of us who adults now were allowed to get away with as children would be unthinkable today. Health and safety is paramount and most of us would not have it any other way. The same attitude to safety applies to many other professions and aspects of life. Builders wear hard hats and visibility vests, we can’t drive most cars unless we have safety belts on etc. 

But there are still some areas of life where safety is still a matter of debate. One such area (perhaps the most important and surprising) is psychotherapy. Psychotherapy, or healing therapies, is a relatively new profession that includes activities such as; counselling, body therapy, breathwork, with practitioners such as; therapists, clergy, hospice workers and mentors. This usually means working with people who are very vulnerable due to some form of crisis in their lives. That makes them, in a sense, as vulnerable as young children. Still it is not equated to working with children as regards safety regulation. Practitioners of healing therapies are often self employed with their own small (one-person) practice. And it is not uncommon that they are self-taught in their profession. But all forms of healing therapy can have a profound and long-lasting effect on people who search for help in times of distress. So the obvious question must be why this area is not as regulated as others when it comes to safety.  

It is a well known fact that people can regress to a very vulnerable states of mind, where they in effect go back mentally and emotionally to being children. To deal with a person in such a regressed (and vulnerable) state of mind requires not just skills and knowledge but also life experience and wisdom that can take a lot of hard work to acquire. So in this sense one would assume that safety aspects would be as important as for other forms of ‘child-care’. Still there is very little in the way of regulation of these professions. 

In particular the newer forms of healing therapies (often referred to as New Age Therapies) such as Reiki, Holotropic and Rebirthing Breathwork, and other forms of self-help groups are self-regulated. This is not to say that the self-regulation does not work. But it can be difficult to objectively judge the quality of a profession before it’s been established long enough to have sufficient evidence of its results and best practice. In particular since some of these therapy forms work with areas such as non-ordinary states of consciousness that are not well known or recognised by mainstream psychology. But to rely on self-regulation alone increases the risk of poor safety regulation and quality control in a way that would be unacceptable in other areas of professional qualifications and regulations. 

An example of what can happen with a self-regulated therapy is Rebirthing Breathwork, where the focus is very much on helping clients through altered states of consciousness. Here safety should be very high on the agenda. But for various reason, proper quality control has always, and is still, lacking. One reason is that, in particular among older breathwork practitioners, there is still a firm belief (from the bygone 1970’s era) that knowing the breathing technique itself is sufficient. In other words, many practitioners are not taking full responsibility for their role in working with a very powerful mind-altering technique. Many still see themselves as being guided by some form of higher guidance that somehow will prevent them from doing anything wrong or harmful to their clients.This can often result in the attitude that everything, good or bad, that is initiated via their guidance of their clients, is ‘created by the client’s negative thoughts’, rather than practitioner incompetence. 

This belief in a ‘higher order or power’ guiding the therapy has meant that a need for a theoretical framework has not been seen as essential. Partly this can be blamed on a lack of acceptance of altered states of consciousness in mainstream psychology. This has forced many breathwork practitioners to turn to ancient eastern explanations and to rely on anecdotal evidence, and a guru-style teaching. But such a reliance on the ‘elders’ to teach and build up a theoretical framework for the technique has not resulted in a positive outcome; a potentially powerful alternative to conventional psychotherapy has been marginalised by mainstream society. And worse, it has meant a very uneven quality between practitioners. So Rebirthing Breathwork can act as an illustration of why safety, or a focus on ‘non-harming’ and ethics of caring (as this book does) are essential in areas that are by their nature difficult to teach. And, as Kylea Taylor’s  book emphasises, in particular in these forms of therapy, it is really important that the professional healer does not underestimate the power of their work and the effect it can have on people. 

This is why this book is so important. It addresses a number of important issues, not just for breathwork but for healing practitioners of all kinds. Helping others to help themselves is something deeply rooted in all of us. But even if we all mean well there are many pitfalls and vulnerabilities that need to be recognised. Sometimes it is simply not enough to mean well. We also need to have some level of understanding and insight, of good and bad practice, to be able to help and find ‘the right relationship’ with others. 

In the beginning of the book, in the chapter entitled Honouring the Web of Life, Kylea Taylor addresses the importance of this and describes the difficulties of being a therapist.“We must be willing to deepen our personal awareness in order to learn more about our motivations. We must be willing to discover the point at which our unique qualities are in the best balance to serve others. And we must also be willing to widen our understanding of the external contexts and connections that affect our professional relationships.”  (p 40).

This is the third edition of a book that was written in 1995. Over the years it has been included in many training programmes throughout the world and become an essential tool in training practitioners of all healing professions. But much has happened in this field over the years. So this version has been updated and adjusted to the current situation in this field. But the focus is still to describe the ‘right relationship’ between therapist and client. This includes ethical values as well as vulnerabilities. 

Working with clients who bring up deep emotional trauma may be very upsetting both for client and therapist. And, as the author rightly points out, even therapists are human beings. This is one of the big challenges of being a therapist; to be able to steer a person through the client’s inner rough sea of emotions and make sure the crossing is as safe as possible. And to make sure that both practitioner and client end up safely on the other shore. It requires not just knowledge of the human psyche but also self-awareness and willingness to ‘learn on the job’ and seek help from supervisors when that is needed. 

A very important aspect of the right relationship is to be ethical in all aspects of the profession. This includes a number of aspects; from creating a practice that offers a safe space for the client, to money, booking appointments, sexual behaviour and other ethical guidelines. The author points out two aspects in particular; 1) the ethical relationship itself is healing and 2) learning from ethical missteps. It also involves an ethical attention to the client’s need in extraordinary states of mind. This is particularly important since altered states of consciousness are still not fully recognised in some forms of psychotherapy and will probably be unknown to the client as well. By its very nature, it is an area that is difficult to investigate with any scientific stringency. So, it’s difficult to offer explanations and reassurance to the client. For a practitioner, this requires forms of life experience or wisdom that can rarely be achieved by simply studying books. It also involves a certain level of self-experience of these states of mind. If you haven’t had a similar experience yourself, it can be very difficult to help someone who is experiencing mind- (and perhaps life-) altering states of consciousness.

With her many years of personal experience of Holotropic Breathwork, Kylea Taylor has the experience and wisdom it takes to write a thorough and important guide for practitioners in the healing professions. Her wisdom shines through on every page and makes the book a very valuable aid to introducing the safety regulation which is so much needed in these professions.

The Ethics of Caring has won a silver medal from the Nautilus Book Awards in the category or Relationships and Communication

(3rd revised and expanded edition 2017, first published 1995), Hanford Mead Publishers,  355 p, paperback £ 19.99, ISBN 9781592750412 www.hanfordmead.com