13 Aug Psychotherapy Work and My Office
My client walks through the door and we say hello. I walk out from my back office and we sit down. My office is split in two with a door that leads to a smaller office where I have my desk, my files, some books, and a bunch of trash I chuck into the corner. How does a therapy session begin? Well, it most likely varies from therapist to therapist, but this is how I do it. If it is the client’s first time, I gather the paperwork I’ve had them read and fill out, get ready to take notes for the first session and begin with, “so what brings you in.” Sometimes I even say, “so what’s up?” I usually get right into it, no formal intake process, no history, blah, blah, blah. All that comes out when it’s relevant. Obviously we get into a lot of that in the first and second sessions as I get to know them.
I sit in a single armchair across from the couch that my clients sit on. They have the option to sit anywhere. Sometimes people choose the chair and I sit on the couch. I have found that often the people who choose the chair are the most guarded or scared. The single chair acts like a more closed-in security, a hug if you will. The open couch is too open, exposing their fear and vulnerability. A glass table sits in between us, where tissues sit, a book, and flower pot with no flower in it.
My office is decorated with earth tones, paper lamps, an Asian looking divider between the sitting area and the doorway, some fabric with Buddhist sayings on them, shelves with plants, my degree, and my certification. To my left is a small bookcase with some books in it.
When I moved into this office I had it painted and I put floorboards in myself. It’s 375 sq ft and has no window. I started looking for new space after about three months in cause I really needed a window. Over a year later I’m still there. It’s nice and warm and inviting, but in some ways a little creepy without a window. Some clients need the door to my back office open because it makes them feel safe. Traumatized clients will often feel uncomfortable with closed doors.
On one of my shelves sits a bonzai tree. It’s dead. It’s been dead for months, actually, over a year now. But it doesn’t look too dead, so I leave it there. I’m not too good with keeping plants watered. So I bought another large plant that is fake. Perfect. I had one client who loves nature get mad at me when I shared the plant was dead. This client doesn’t like humans as much as plants and I gave this person more reason to continue that sentiment.
When I was buying stuff for this office I was trying to figure out how to furnish it. It was a bigger office than my previous one because I wanted to do groups in it. I eventually decided against doing groups in that space. But when I was looking for another armchair I must have gone to 7 or 8 stores. I finally bought a leather armchair from Home Depot that was on a great sale. I thought it was going to be perfect. It took awhile to get my van, move the seats, and return to where the manager had set it aside. I paid for it, got it back to my office, carried it up the stairs all by myself (it was kind of big), got it through the door and decided I didn’t like it. The funny thing about me is, if I want to return something I need to do it right away. So I squeezed it back through the door, back down the stairs and into the car, returning it to Home Depot within an hour of buying it.
A couple weeks later I found another chair somewhere else. I took it to my office and decided it also didn’t look right. There was almost a foot of snow now outside but I marched that stupid chair right back down and into the car and returned it as well. There still isn’t another chair to balance out my office. It’s not necessary though.
Some clients comment on the fact that they like my office, some think the office building is weird, some never knew offices existed where mine is, and others don’t say or think anything of the office because they are most likely too nervous to notice anything or too focused on dealing with their lives that the minor details of my office are irrelevant.
“So what brings you in?” Sometimes this catches people off guard. So much brings them in, where do they get started? But this is the point. I want them to work out all that’s bringing them in, in their words. I want to get to know them and their struggle as they experience it right now. Sometimes we laugh together at my huge general question. And then I sit there and wait. They begin to let me in on their life and I jump in at times to ask questions or offer my understanding in my own words.
I am often helping people with anxiety, stress, relationships, stuckness, and addiction. It’s amazing how much anxiety is playing a large part in people’s lives and they don’t really know it. Anxiety is something we all experience, but it can start to become debilitating. Unmanaged stress can often begin to bring about anxious symptoms as the taxed body feels as though something is wrong and yet the mind doesn’t see any danger. This has become a huge issue in our harried and highly stimulating culture. I have struggled with anxiety myself. Depression as well. It certainly helps me understand where my clients are.
I’m also helping couples understand the dynamics between them. Systems are interdependent working parts that impact the function of the other parts. Couples are often in “dances” that don’t work well. I help them get outside their own relationship to better understand that they aren’t that far off from each other and that they are dancing because they don’t know a better way to negotiate and express their needs.
And I deal with a bunch of other issues. One thing I’ve noticed is I’m often helping people to have a voice in their lives. To be assertive with exactly what is looking to be spoken. Anger is often an arrow, I explain to people, to something inside of us that wants to have a voice with us or with someone we are angry with. When we don’t really listen to that, we just react and that’s when angery behavior produces undesired results.
I like to help people validate themselves. I tell people that we are the only species that has the capacity to dislike, even hate, itself, and that from a creature standpoint makes no sense. Bringing my clients’ awareness to their body, to a vague sense of how they feel, and describing that is one way we begin. Other times we explore the worldview they have about themselves, the other people in their lives, and the world in general. Ultimately I am helping people have a better understanding relationship with themselves.
Other times, who knows what is happening in that room. Therapy. It can’t always be explained. Therapy for both of us – or all of us. It’s an experience.
We work our way to the end of the session. I let them know we need to begin wrapping up. Sometimes I’m not good at doing this on time. It’s hard to just cut someone off. But I have come to learn the value of keeping time boundaries in therapy. I check in with them to see how they’re doing, how they’re feeling since coming in. Sometimes I sense they are telling me they feel better because they think that’s what I’m after. They are taking care of me and my feelings as a therapist. Sometimes I push this a bit when I know they are not feeling fine so we can both validate where they are. We stand up, book the next appointment and say goodbye. I close the door and go back into my own little world in that back room with no window.