I love it when a client comes into my office and states that they feel better just being in my “space”. This blog is about what I’ve culled from 12 years of counselling others in “spaces”.
The first step in creating a therapeutic environment for yourself and your clients is addressing the physical space you share. I have provided therapy in a small, windowless office as well as a large, ninth floor corner office with balcony. The clients I served in both offices seemed equally satisfied with their counselling experience. So what, exactly, helped make the spaces therapeutic? The following is a list of key considerations you should keep in mind when establishing your own counselling space.
#1 Adequate size If you have a small office, decorate accordingly. Smaller furniture (how big a desk do you really need?), and no unnecessary items (e.g. bookshelves, filing cabinets, large plants, loud art, etc.). Yes, you likely need some paperwork handy, but use a smaller-scale filing system to store them. If you share an office space, try to negotiate sharing necessary furniture pieces so you don’t end up duplicating items.
#2 Seating logistics Always, always, always check out the view from the client’s seating perspective. What will the backdrop behind you look like? Computer monitors, to-do lists, messy piles of papers or files do not insights beget! Try to ensure that your client’s view is as undistracting and pleasant as possible. This brings me to my next point…
#3 Reasonable tidiness Yes, limited space can result in ongoing work being in open view, but there really is no reason for a half-eaten muffin, confidential client files/information or reams of random papers to be strewn about (all things I have witnessed in my own and others’ offices). Take the time if need before seeing each client to glance around your office and tidy as necessary. Client’s can be very, very observant if not just plain curious – especially keep other client information tucked away.
#4 Lights & Scents As I prefer indirect lighting, I tend to pepper my office with standing and desk lamps, accented with one lit candle. I find too harsh lighting prevents a sense of calm, safety and emotional intimacy. With that being said, a too-dark office replete with flickering candelabras can send the wrong message. Find a healthy balance. The same goes for scents – I often used a scented candle, though I know many office spaces have quite strict rules about scents, so you may be limited in your options. As one of my jobs currently is working with homeless folks who have intermittent access to laundry and showers, the use of a scented spray (see “cleansing your space” below) helps refresh my office between clients.
#5 Ambient Noise Hallways, neighbouring offices, passing traffic (people, cars, trains, and emergency vehicles) all provide an interesting soundtrack to a session. Though it is best to try to work in a soundproofed space, this is not always possible. Hanging tapestries, curtains, etc. to muffle noise is one strategy. The use of a white noise machine or even soft music can be another. For example, I often put on a CD I have that consists of one, long, sustained “om” chant. It is unobtrusive and calming (for both the client and myself) and can soften sudden noises from outside my office.
#6 Cleansing Your Space I personally find it helpful to cleanse my office space in between each client. Smells, stale air and residual energy should be flushed out so that each new client doesn’t have to work in the last client’s “stuff”. If you have a window or exterior door, open it wide. If you open your office door too, the cross breeze can work wonders. I also use meditation chimes and lavender room spray (all-natural essential oil based, not artificial if possible) to help move any trapped energy and refresh the air. The use of plants, smudging and crystals can also help keep your space feeling therapeutic. As for yourself, deep breathing, stepping outside, washing your hands or using whatever other ritual you prefer to refresh yourself between clients can be highly beneficial. After, all, you are part of the space too!
Though office size, location, agency policies and building regulations can all impact what you can do to (and in) your counselling space, I encourage everyone to try and create an environment that feels welcoming to both you and your clients.
If you are so inspired, please feel free to send me your own strategies for creating and maintaining your counselling space as I would be glad to post them.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA