I think that most of us can agree that one thing that is certain in life is uncertainty! But how we yearn for certainty! How we wish that we could have the reassurance, the guarantee, that everything is going to be OK, be it when embarking on a new career, starting a new relationship, or indeed all throughout a marriage or a long-term partnership. We all wish to be covered with the warm reassuring cloak of certainty.
When people seek out help, they are usually in a place of unsafe uncertainty (chaotic, despair) or unsafe certainty (fixed in a negative place), and what they feel that they need from the therapist is for the therapist to get them to a place of safe certainty. But that should not be the point of therapy as the implication is that the client will always remain dependent on someone or something outside of him/herself to feel safe. Indeed, some argue that if we were living in a constant state of safe certainty, this would suffocate our very being and curb any potential and incentive for creativity.
As any competent therapist knows, the job of the therapist is to walk alongside the client helping him/her navigate the challenges that the client is facing and eventually help him/her get to a place of safe uncertainty. This is a concept coined by Barry Mason (1993) to help guide professionals working in the field of therapy, but we can also adopt this idea to our everyday lives.
Being in a place of safe uncertainty in our lives means that we are always open to be in a state of flow, to have our mindset open to ideas and possibilities which may not normally fit in with societal expectations, or what we would have planned for ourselves. Indeed, living from a place of safe uncertainty allows one to be creative and adventurous, journeying through life with an attitude which is one of exploration and curiosity whilst being open to unknown possibilities. It is about being able to adopt an attitude where it is ok to be doubtful and uncertain as long as one is able to explore these in emotionally supportive relationships, the most important one being the relationship that we have with ourselves.
Recently I came across a saying by Jon Kabat-Zinn: “Patience is a form of wisdom. It demonstrates that we understand the fact that sometimes things must unfold in their own time”. This is another way of expressing the idea of living in safe uncertainty, of having the quiet assurance that in the end everything will be OK, even though OK may not necessarily be what we would have planned it to be.
Charlotte Schembri has a background in psychology and education and has extensive experience in supporting students with different needs and their families. She is currently reading for a Masters in Family Therapy and Systemic Practice and forms part of the Willingness Team.
Mason, B. (2019). Re-visiting safe uncertainty: six perspectives for clinical practice and the assessment of risk. Journal of Family Therapy, 0, 1–14.
Mason, B. (1993). Towards Positions of Safe Uncertainty. InterAction, 7(1), 28-43.