Containment and Non-Reactivity

The therapist is comfortable sharing whatever emotions the client has and, in addition, wants to know the clients authentic experience more fully – as good or as bad as it actually is for them – without minimising or exaggerating it as others have often done.  In attachment terms, this highly accurate empathy is known as attuned responsiveness.

Therapists want to help clients experience [their emotions] more fully [rather than just cognitively labelling, explaining, or interpreting them] in the moment, and then respond in a different and corrective way that provides validation and helps the client feel seen and understood.  In attachment terms this is known as containment.  (Tayber & Tayber, 2017, p.154)

There is, in my perspective, nothing more innately beautiful that the eloquent expression of love through containment.  For the whole of a being to be held in a deeply felt sense of safety, whilst being simultaneously wrapped in the warm offering of hope that arises through a shared sense of attuned presence, is a profound statement of faith and the internal knowing that there is, within each individual, an inherent and ever-emerging ability to restore mental and physical equanimity (O’Hara, 2013; Siegel, 2010).

Notwithstanding the linguistic limitations in communicating what this expression entails, I have come to comprehend that containment is somewhat synonymous to co-regulation: the ability of a therapist to modulate, with intentionality and resonance, the spatiotemporally affected (the implicit sensory knowing that exists through space-time) spaces within and between themselves and their client (Badenoch, 2018; Schore, 2009; Siegel, 2010).  More specifically, this is the capacity of the therapist to instil a trusted sense of compassionate connectedness – one that removes threat, offers substrates for “feel[ing] felt” (Siegel, 2010, p. 74), all-the-while “stay[ing] connected no matter the intensity of the emotion” (Badenoch, 2018, p. 191) – allowing the client to be in an empowered state of receptivity while exploring the sensations, emotions, and cognitions that surround their dysregulation (Schore, 2009; Siegel, 2010; Tayber & Tayber, 2017).  Correspondingly, it is within this co-regulated, or contained, space that the client’s internal sense of trust in another activates the trust in themselves as resonantly seen, heard, understood, and above all, accepted and valued (Tayber & Tayber, 2017).

With insight, while I acknowledge that this aforementioned description is formed from literature, I must also acknowledge that this known (mental process) comes from the knowing (intuit awareness) that has been underscored by intensely moving experiences of being held in deep suffering; experiences where my once rejected sensitivities were seen by another in a new light – accepted and valued with kindness, compassion, without the urgent need to interrupt, interpret, or intervene in the processes of emoting arising sensations.  Respectively, I have come to more genuinely understand what it means hold spaces of non-reactivity or resonate response: spaces where the co-regulator can facilitate a functional interaction of differentiated, yet harmoniously attuned physical and mental presence in which mindful responses are offered (Seigel, 2010).  Through personal experiences of activating mis-attunement and relational rupture, I have acquired an overt awareness to the nature of the lure of undifferentiation, over-resonance, and/or the will to make connections.  That is, an awareness that brings to my attention that present moment states, my enduring traits, and the implicit propensities (Siegel, 2010) that define my relational patterns , propel me not only toward false assumption and/or interpretation, by so too toward out-pacing and making explicit what the other is not ready to see, hear, or notice.  And, while this is an area I continue to work with, I know that with an intentional focus on attuned mindful awareness I can move toward a facilitative use of myself within the client’s unique journey toward mental and physical equanimity.


Badenoch, B. (2018). The heart of trauma: Healing the embodied brain in the context of relationships. W. W. Norton & Company.

Hill, C. E. (2014). Helping skills: Facilitating exploration, insight, and action. American Psychological Association.

O’Hara, D. (2013). Hope in counselling and psychotherapy. SAGE Publications.

Schore, A. N. (2009). Right-brain affect regulation: An essential mechanism of development, trauma, dissociation, and psychotherapy. In D. Fosha, D. J. Siegel, & M. Solomon (Eds.), The healing power of emotion: Affective neuroscience, development & clinical practice (pp. 112–144). W. W. Norton & Company.

Siegel, D. J. (2010). The mindful therapist: A clinician’s guide to Mindsight and neural integration. W. W. Norton & Company.

Teyber, E., & Teyber, F. (2017). Interpersonal process in therapy: An integrative model (7th ed.). Cengage Learning.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *