Creating a Therapeutic Space
When I originally set up my practice I rented a therapy room and this more often than not worked well. The locations were easily accessible, peaceful, discreet spaces. However quiet they were though, I was always aware of others working in the building and the comings and goings of other practitioners and their clients and I am sure my clients on occasion were too. Sometimes it felt as if we were muddling through, mindful of trying to offer our clients the privacy they require, trying to avoid close encounters on stairs and in doorways.
Whether I have been a client myself or a practitioner, therapy has always involved us both sitting on a chair, often directly facing each other, sometimes not. As a client, I was aware that I could engage in eye contact more and more as I became more comfortable in the space and with my therapist.
So, other than a couple of chairs and a private, confidential space to contain our work, what more is needed?
A few years ago, a couple of colleagues visiting my home, pointed to the garage at the end of my garden and said “that is your therapy room”. I laughed. A damp single skin structure full of those things that might come in handy one day sat staring back at me. I chose to ignore them. More recently, two different colleagues said the same thing and I decided to take the idea more seriously. Could this space at the end of my garden be the answer and the end to muddling through. I felt it was worth looking into. Plus, it would be my own space. Not one I had to share with others. One I could set out how I wanted and every time I returned it would be as I left it. I realised long ago that my clients always noticed if some item had moved from one week to the next and in rented room, I had little control over this.
Enter Tony (not his real name) the builder full of advice and ideas and exit all that stuff that might come in handy! That was the easy bit – trying to explain what I did as a psychotherapist and the type of space I needed to create was another matter. It is, I realised, so much more than privacy and chairs, contained within four walls. At this point Tony offered up the plans for the build he had in mind. It was a sturdy structure, built to last, easy to maintain and well insulated. I knew the space had to be private, light and airy and comfortable and provide a safe space for containing and embracing all feelings within. Together we took what felt like a leap of faith as we agreed to get project "shed" underway. I knew nothing about building and Tony knew nothing of psychotherapy but what we did share was the knowledge of how to create a secure base.
For me, A Secure Base is the title of John Bowlby's 1988 book on the theory of attachment. It helps me to think about what is needed to provide a safe haven when someone is upset or anxious. Clients need me to be trustworthy and reliable, physically and emotionally available and sensitive to his or her needs. In addition, I must be mindful of the protective strategies that they have learned in order to feel safe in the past and adjust my approach so that my style feels comfortable and acceptable rather than undermining or threatening. The ensuing relationships will then provide a secure base, from which my clients can develop and be supported to explore and maximise their potential. For Tony it was as depicted above.
Project "shed" has been complete for sometime now and my clients seem to appreciate the result of our collaborative work. However hard I try though it is still known as "The Shed".