Create a feeling of safety - Use guided imagery to stop fear

By: Tom Cloyd - 2 min. read (Published: 2005; reviewed: 2023-01-15)

“Safe place” is a self-structured guided imagery procedure. Many versions of it exist. It’s a simple procedure, and usually works very well for most people. Use this procedure to distance yourself from disturbing feelings or thoughts and replace them with a sense of comfort and safety.1


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How to do it

  1. Arrange your environment so that you will have a few minutes of uninterrupted time. (Excusing yourself to go sit in a bathroom might be an easy way to get these few minutes). Sit comfortably, then close your eyes and allow your mind to become quiet and empty as much as you can, perhaps by visualizing a blackboard on which nothing is written.
  2. Bring to your mind a memory of any place you have actually been where you felt safe, peaceful, and comfortable. For some people this will be a place they have been that is outdoors, away from the rush of everyday life. For others, it might be a place in their home or in the home of a friend. If no actual place comes to mind, then imagine a place you have seen in a picture, a place where you would feel safe and peaceful and comfortable. After you have located your “safe place”, you are to explore it for a few moments, as it exists in your mind, using first one sense then another, until you have used four of your five basic senses, as described below.
    • Begin first with your vision. What can you see in your safe place? Look at the forms, the outlines, the surfaces and colors. Take the time to really see what’s there. Do not rush. There is no reason to hurry.
    • When you have looked at your safe place for a while, allow yourself to pay attention to what you can smell. Maybe you’ll want to move around, to come in contact with different smells that tell you where you are. Notice what each smell does to your state of mind.
    • Then let yourself pay attention to your hearing. Listen for all the little sounds that might be there, in your safe place. Sometimes all you will hear is the velvety silence of pure quiet, which is especially nice. Other times some very distinct sounds are present—wind, or water, walking sounds as you move about.
    • Finally, let yourself reach out and touch things. Feel textures, how rough or smooth or soft or hard things are. Pick up some things and feel their weight. Feel how warm or cool various things are.
  3. When you are finished, just let yourself sit quietly for a few moments. Notice the calmness and peacefulness you now feel. Notice where, in your body, this feeling is centered. To help you find this state of mind again, quickly, find a single word that you can use to label what you are feeling right now. For some people it might be “peace”, or “calm”. Some others like to use the name of their safe place, if it has a name. Do what works best for you.
  4. Slowly open your eyes, staying in touch with your inner calmness. Carry it forward with you into your next activity. It’s yours to keep, if you like. The peace you have found inside yourself is actually always there—you just lose it sometimes, especially if you have bad memories. Practicing finding it is very practical and useful, for most of us. When we are calm and quiet inside, we experience what is in front of us much more clearly, and we think and make decisions better.

Shapiro, F. (2001). Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): Basic Principles, Protocols, and Procedures, (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford.

  1. This is my adaptation of a procedure that is widely used by EMDR psychotherapists when dealing with clients who are working on memories of traumatic events. It was first shown to me by my EMDR trainers, and is discussed in F. Shapiro’s Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (2001), pp. 125-127. ^


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