The safe place exercise


The safe place exercise is often called a calm place or peaceful place. When done successfully, this exercise can help you get into a flow state. A flow state happens when you are fully immersed in a feeling of focus. You forget about everything around you. You are in the zone.

Safe Place is a visualization technique. Practicing safe place involves finding a place in your life where you were at your best. When time stopped (in a good way) and you were immersed in what you were doing or where you were. Alternatively, you can use an imaginary safe place and create a place that will take you into calmness and relaxation.

My safe place is floating on a river in Laos, with no people around. Just me and Mother Nature, sounds of water and birds. Yours can be different. It’s anywhere you felt completely safe, calm, secure, positive, and able. By practicing going there, you can create a refuge for yourself at any moment.


Your safe/ calm place is like magic. It can have a powerful effect on your brain. Let me give you an example of how visualization affects the brain.

Alvaro Pascual-Leone, who runs the lab for magnetic brain stimulation at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, designed a brilliant study: He taught a group of people who had never played the piano how to play a few notes. Then he divided them into two groups:

  • In Group 1, the participants played the piano two hours a day for 5 day
  • In Group 2, the participants sat in front of a piano and imagined playing the piano for the same amount of time (2 hours, 5 days).

All participants had their brains scanned before, during and after the experiment.

Pascual-Leone found that participants in both groups had similar brain changes as a result of physical and mental practice. The mental practice led to the same physical changes in the brain.

That’s the power of visualization. And that’s the power of your safe place: when you visualize yourself in your safe place, your brain (at least part of it) believes that you are actually there and safe. But this is not only “in your head.” When your brain and nervous system believe that you are on vacation, they send your body signals of calm and relaxation. The safe place can become an instant vacation balm for you.


Safe place is also an evaluation tool your EMDR therapist uses to determine your readiness to start reprocessing. If you cannot bring yourself to your safe place, then you are not ready to start your EMDR processing.

Feel free to ask your therapist to go there with you. You can start a therapy session and/or end one with the safe place exercise. Remember that any time things are getting too overwhelming while you’re reprocessing, you can take a break and go to your safe or calm place.

Rotem Brayer is a certified EMDR therapist and an EMDR consultant in training practicing in Denver, Colorado. He divides his time between helping refugees to improve their mental health and maintaining a private practice.



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