This year has continued to horrify, with each month bringing more tragedy and heartbreak. Every morning I read posts saying therapists will be busier than ever, overwhelmed trying to help people cope with quarantine, stress from confronting institutionalized racism, classism, sexism. And every morning I continue to be concerned that the people who need our help the most, may not have access to therapy. We all know that our clients struggling with depression, agoraphobia, and anxiety, are challenged to reach out and initiate therapy, and often have a hard time coming to sessions. People weighed down by oppression, fear, anger, and hopelessness are fighting to wake up and survive. When so much is at stake, therapy and self-care are on the back burner. How are we able to reach them? How can we help?
I don’t have all the answers. This is something we are all working through. All I know is that providing love, support, and accessibility must be a priority for us, caregivers. My articles typically focus on helping therapists improve the client experience through office set-up and design. I’d like to use this article to address how we can help people feel welcomed, comfortable, and at home when they are able to connect with us. As we move back to seeing clients in-office once again, let’s ensure they feel as comfortable as possible.
Setting the tone
So much of setting the tone for therapy comes from the non-verbal messages we give our clients; from our facial expressions to the color of the walls in the waiting room. It’s important to look at our office from another perspective to ensure we are not decorating it with things that are familiar and comfortable only to us. For example, if a couples counselor wants to fill their office with pictures of couples, are they only selecting photos that reflect their own orientation? If a same-sex couple or polycule come to that office, they might not feel as welcome as if there were many couples- and family-types displayed. I know there are a lot of different factors to be considered, and certainly, this isn’t designed to pressure you to have every community, orientation, and ability represented. It’s just a loving reminder to think about how we are presenting our offices, and being mindful of our clientele.
Strip away preconceived notions
We want to strip away our preconceived notions of our prospective clients. Don’t assume their status as someone with or without a disability. Don’t assume their sexual orientation, their religion, or their race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. We are building an atmosphere that is warm and loving for everyone. Check to see if your office is already accessible by wheelchair, or individuals dealing with chronic pain, injury, mobility disabilities. Even if you have an office that doesn’t offer a stairless option, make sure you display this on your website or make new clients aware of this. You can talk to your landlord about changing your door handles to lever options, rather than a grasp and turn, to make entering the office easier. Small changes, such as arranging your office furniture to allow space for individuals with wheelchairs or support animals, can go a long way.
Most clients report having positive perceptions of therapists who have neat, and organized offices, so keep your personal touches from being too overwhelming or cluttering. That said, using visual art such as posters, paintings, sculptures, and textiles, are wonderful ways to express yourself and also be inclusive. There are many great places to purchase inclusive art online where you can browse and find pieces that you love, and suit your office.
Inclusion and acceptance
Teaching Tolerance is a website geared toward promoting education and activism in the classroom. They have beautiful printable posters and educational material. Displaying images and art from different communities and ethnicities adds life and depth to your office, and also allows clients from backgrounds other than your own, to know they belong here. Take cues from the area you live in, as well as your target clients. See how you can represent them, and demonstrate your love and support in a non-verbal way.
Promoting women and femme-presenting individuals is another great way to show that your office is a safe place for people to be vulnerable, and share their experiences. Look for bold, colorful images of feminism, empowerment, and smashing the patriarchy. Art addressing women’s rights, body autonomy, and pro-choice are great places to look for messages. Promote body-positivity for all gender expressions in your office, your website, and your life.
Hanging a pride flag in your office or waiting area, lets clients know that you are an ally. Pictures of Stonewall, same-sex couples, and enby and trans support communicate acceptance and understanding. Justseeds is a site offering pride, advocacy, and resistance posters for purchase or download. See if there are local artists near you who support pride. This way you are investing in your community, and displaying your support.
Unconditional positive regard
When choosing your art, layout, and physical set-up for your office, please do not go outside of your scope. Please do not portray yourself as an advocate or an ally if you are not. As therapists, we need to practice diligent self-awareness and recognize if we have limitations. If you have a hard time or are unable to appropriately work with a population, please refer out, then seek supervision, educate yourself, get to training, ask for help and support! I cannot stress this enough. Our clients deserve to work with a therapist who can love them and provide unconditional positive regard.
Katie Hido is the owner of Gray Cat Counseling, and a Licensed Professional Counselor. She has been in the field for over 5 years and currently specializes in communication skills and adult attachment therapy. Her practice focuses on helping adults struggling with corporate burnout and issues with connection to improve their boundaries and quality of life.
Katie has a Masters in Philosophy from Duquesne University, concentrating on phenomenology and existentialism. She took that perspective and decided to use it to help others cope with issues such as time, death, and existence. Katie completed her Masters in couples counseling from Duquesne while working with children and teens in a residential treatment facility. She worked with adults and teens in a substance use facility, then provided therapy at a community agency.
Katie trained in Emotionally Focused Couples therapy and used those skills to work with couples and to build a behavioral health department for her local Planned Parenthood affiliate. Currently, she is focused on building up Gray Cat Counseling and promoting her blog, as well as wrangling her many cats, reptiles, and chickens in rural Western Pennsylvania.