Create space

Bench outside of the Hilton Downtown San Diego

Whether you are a business person, a lawyer, a mother, a pilot, a therapist, or an artist, you can probably relate to how difficult it is to get work done when there is a mess. Mess leads to distraction, discombobulation, confusion, misunderstanding, and miscommunication.

As a therapist, the process of clearing space applies to my office, my home, and my clients. Whether I’m seeing clients in facilities, in their offices, outside at a park, at my home studio, or over Skype, I aspire to be cognizant of the environment and the effects thereof.

There are certain environments that are more conducive to wellness than others. For instance, when I walk into a store, environment is huge for me. As much as possible, I avoid all of the larger grocery stores, Walmarts, and Targets, simply because the environment is too over-stimulating and stressful for me personally.

I’ve written about throwing things away, minimizing mess, and cleaning up before, and now I’m excited to dish out my two cents and listen to your thoughts on environmental clean-up for clients.

A few weeks ago, Crista Orefice asked this on Facebook:

Thanks for the question, Crista! Here’s how our Twitter conversation went on the subject (Thanks to @KeyChangesMT @_Auwel_ @RachelleNorman @jparkerneal @bachinaminuet):

Obviously, this is a huge topic to cover in one little blog post! There are so many ways to set your clients and yourself up for success in a session, but here’s my perspective in creating space for the therapeutic environment:

For some of my clients, everything works like clockwork, the staff understands what I’m doing in the session, the participants are sitting in a circle ready and waiting to drum when I arrive, and everyone is on board. But for other clients, I have to provide more guidance, clarification about space clearing and setup.

My day-to-day work is mostly with older adults, but I think there is great cross-over to kids, psych, wellness, and medical settings. Here are some tips for setting and clearing the space for a session in general:

1. Visualize your most ideal session before starting. What are the goals for your group? What would your most ideal session look like? Clients sitting in a circle? Clients up and moving around during parts of the session? Where are the instruments? Are there any papers or handouts or other props you’re using? If so, then where are they during the session? Do you need assistance from staff and/or parents at any point during the session?

2. Set up the room beforehand. Ask the staff and/or parents to help create a low-distraction, simple room layout. Set chairs, instruments, and props purposefully in the room before beginning.

3. Create a very clear distinction between being “IN SESSION” and “OUT OF SESSION.” After the room is prepared, and clients are ready, make a clear verbal, nonverbal, and/or musical announcement that the session has begun. Only do this once the clients are positioned and primed to begin. You can officially begin the session with chimes, a chant, playing the guitar, a greeting song, shaking everyone’s hands, placing drums in people’s hands, rhythmic call and response with body percussion, announcing the goals for the session that day, or anything to draw the focus of attention. It helps if you use the same beginning for several sessions in a row, so everyone becomes accustomed and familiar with the cue for being “IN SESSION.”

4. Get staff and parents to be on your team. Communicate with staff on the best room set up beforehand. Make sure everyone understands the importance of setting the space.

5. Your session should be known officially as an extremely special occurrence. Introduce and talk about your session as if it were a very special event. Whether you are communicating with session participants, parents, caregivers, and staff members, speak about the session as if it is a sacred and focused time.

6. Take time in the session to reinforce low-distraction. Sometimes a caregiver has a walkie-talkie on maximum volume during my sessions. If I’m in the middle of an experience, then I take the time to look over, raise my eyebrows, smile, and look at the walkie-talkie. The only time this nonverbal cue hasn’t worked is when I’m not able to make eye contact. Otherwise, it works like a charm. The smile lets them know that we are on the same team, helping the clients focus. If I’m unable to make eye contact, then I mention their name to get attention and give the same nonverbal cue. It always works.

In a healthy staff community, everyone wants you to succeed. So, I really think that as a service provider and therapist to your clients, if you are assertive, confident, kind, and thankful, the staff and parents will do what they can to help and support your session. We can expect staff and parents to want the session to be a success.

Crista, you also mentioned using a piano. I *love* it when my clients have a piano to play. (The piano is my primary instrument.) But sometimes, because the piano is not as portable as the guitar, playing large group sessions with the piano can be awkward! Here are things to keep in mind for making the piano work in group sessions:

1. Angle the piano so that you can easily turn your head to the side to see the group.
2. Make sure the group can see your entire self sitting at the piano.
3. Consider mixing piano up with guitar and other instruments. I have never done an entire large group session using piano alone. Not to say it isn’t possible! But it’s easier for me to mix it up a bit just to sustain attention.
4. Consider using piano for smaller groups and/or individuals. My first choice instrument for 1:1 clients is piano/keyboard, hand-down. But I prefer using a guitar or drum and piano secondarily with a large group because of proximity.
5. And of course, prepare the room and position of clients beforehand. (See list above.)

I think it’s natural and human to clear space in daily rituals as part of life. Here are some of my personal examples and memories: In 2008, when I attended Arthur Hull’s drum circle facilitation training in Hawaii, we always cleared the space before drumming. In fact, in most group drumming experiences I’ve had, clearing space has been a standard. In authentic movement sessions I take, we always clear the space before moving. When I wake in the morning and put my feet on the floor, I clear my head and give thanks for the day. Before eating a meal, I ponder and focus thoughts on gratitude. Before answering a phone call, I reset and clear my mind in preparation of speaking to the caller. Before writing a blog post, I clear my mind, focus in on the topic, and organize my thoughts.

What are your thoughts on clearing physical and mental space for clients and for oneself?

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