As a therapist who works with kids, teens, and parents, having a bag of tricks is essential. Clients come to a stranger and, almost immediately, we ask for their trust. It’s nothing sort of a miracle to do the sacred work that we all do.
Having a space that offers comfort is essential to calm nervous clients. Having great go-to tools to facilitate the therapeutic process is also a must.
Six Must-Have Tools
Below are six of my favorite versatile, low-cost, and impactful tools that I regularly use (and why they are a must for my office).
1. Waiting Room Comforts
Coming in for therapy can feel scary. The waiting room is a place that increases or mellows those jitters. Pay attention to the sensory experience of your clients from the moment they walk in the door. A clean environment, good lighting, and calm music, for me, is a must. I also look to see where I can add little details of comfort. I have a drink bar, child-friendly and adult wait areas, charging stations, magazines, and simple table games. The point is not specifically what you do, but that the environment says “Welcome, relax, this is a place where you’re cared for”.
2. Welcome Cards
I keep a small stack of postcard-sized welcome cards in my office for the intake appointment. The card has my contact information, general tips for getting the most from counseling, and answers to common questions clients have. There’s also space for us to write the treatment goal, which helps us to stay on track. And, it becomes a nice, welcoming first session takeaway.
A basket of easy-to-grab fidgets is always within reach in my office. It’s great for calming nerves, teaching self-soothing strategies and connecting with clients. Some of my office favorites are Mad Matter, Tangles, Acupressure rings, Squishies, and Thinking Putty.
4. Wintergreen Lifesavers
Clients love the familiar mints always available in my office. But, it’s more than a hospitality item. Other than a quick pick-me-up, I use the mints for a fun therapeutic purpose. This particular flavor has a unique twist. Pop one in your mouth, and you’ll undoubtedly taste the familiar wintergreen. Then, think ‘root beer’ and, surprisingly, the taste changes. It’s a light-hearted ‘trick’ that instantly cuts tension and also illustrates the power of our thoughts.
5. Simple Games / Toys
Uno, Pick up Sticks, Jenga, Connect 4, and Checkers are great games, because they’re so classic. Everyone can play, and you can easily change up the rules to meet your therapy goals. For instance, label the colors with an emotion, talk about competition in other areas of their life, or give each person a different set of rules and talk about effective communication. I also love simple toys, like a soft football or soccer ball. Movement helps regulate low energy or emotionally stuck clients and often increases their ability to talk.
6. Art Supplies
We humans are creative beings. For many clients, the process of art is very therapeutic and can be an excellent vehicle for communicating what is difficult to put into words. I keep general art supplies on hand that can be used for many different purposes. Some of the basics are: coloring books, blank paper, colored pencils, markers, old magazines, and random items like egg cartons, glue, glitter, and paint.
Connecting with clients is at the heart of helping them. Having the right tools to help you do the big job you have ahead makes a big difference. Be proactive about your environment and tools. Look for items that are simple and offer versatility in meeting client needs. In the long run, it makes the job of counseling much easier and more effective.
Wishing you calm, fun, and positive progress in your sessions.
Jenna Fleming, M.Ed, LPC, NCC is owner and clinician at Georgetown Child & Family Counseling , located in the beautiful hill country of Texas. Her practice and work specializes in children, teens, young adults and parents. Jenna is author of the Deeply Rooted Parenting program and often writes and speaks on topics for parents, educators and counselors. When not engaged in her work, you’ll likely catch her being silly with her husband and 2 kids, practicing yoga or enjoying delicious Tex-Mex.