An An 'Objective' Therapy Space

By Duanita G. Eleniak, MSW RCSW ATR BCATR RCAT

A colleague of mine, a psychologist, works extensively and passionately with images through dreams. Several years ago she had her whole office and waiting area painted in an Egyptian theme. When you sat on her couch the three pyramids were behind you. When you entered her office you were entering a sacred space full of images of ancient initiation rites. Against one wall there was a huge altar filled with sand resembling a desert. In the middle of this sand was an ever- burning candle.

I remember when I first met this woman, Dr. Evangeline Rand. We were working together at an agency where she worked with severely sexually abused women. Most of her clients were labeled ‘borderline’, having gone crazy from the years of abuse and victimization. I will never forget overhearing two other therapists gossiping about Dr. Rand. They laughed and whispered to each other about Dr. Rand’s attitude toward her clients. Dr. Rand was ever hopeful about reaching her hurt clients and ever capable of holding a vision of transformation for them. “Who does she think she is,” the gossiping women laughed. “After all, you cannot make roses bloom in the desert.”

In the agency, the door to my office opened up to the waiting room. I remember seeing one of Dr. Rand’s patients coming in week after week. Her head would be hung with her chin resting on her chest, greasy hair dangling down. She never made eye contact with anyone. Our secretary knew who she was and would just buzz Dr. Rand when she arrived. Month after month I looked at the top of this client’s head and remembered the women cackling, “After all, you cannot make roses bloom in the desert.”

And then one week I happened to look in the waiting room when a new patient arrived. Noticing that the secretary was busy on the phone, I approached the woman and asked if I could help her. She looked me in the eye, head held high, stated her name and that she was there to see Dr. Rand. My mouth dropped when I realized that this was the same woman that had been curled up in the waiting room for all these months attempting to be invisible. Wow! A rose had bloomed in the desert. I was witness to this miracle.

Dr. Rand’s desert altar in her office always reminded me of that client and how important it is for us as therapists to hold the vision of healing for our hurt clients, to light an eternal candle in the desert.

Dr. Rand shared with me the story of a woman, also a psychologist, who came to see if she might be able to be a client. Dr. Rand told me of the woman’s absolute shock when she saw the Egyptian office. “I cannot be a client here. This office is anything but objective!” the woman had exclaimed.

So what is an ‘objective’ space? Would white walls, no pictures and a big mahogany desk between the therapist and client suffice? Or maybe a couch where the client could lie and not even look at the therapist? Are we not yet able to see that no space is ‘objective’? The white walls and couch would be as much of a statement about training and personal theoretical orientation as are Dr. Rand’s pyramids on her walls. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of quantum physics knows that it is time for us to give up this notion of ‘objective’ in order that we are able to take total responsibility for the subjective experiences we create by virtue of how we give birth to the therapeutic space in which we work with our clients.

The key issue is to remain aware of the space you create for yourself and your clients to work in. Remain aware of how the space affects you and your clients. Adjust the space as necessary.

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