By the time a patient walks into the office, even for their initial intake, the session is already going. Each detail of the environment, from posters on the wall to knick-knacks on the desk, impacts a patient’s willingness to share and engage. Naturally, sharing and engaging is essential before any real healing can even begin.
When meeting a stranger, the first thing that someone says is rarely something deeply personal. This holds true for therapy as well. While you don’t want to give out too much personal information through decor, it is essential to begin with light conversation. An office itself can act almost as an icebreaker. While the initial intake questionnaire can be rigid and stilted, the following discussion needs to be done outside of that script. There has to be something to talk about. Show that you have a human side full of likes and dislikes, hobbies, and interests. While avoiding overly personal stuff, it can be a good idea to have pop culture references ready to go, or even a dog calendar. Even if certain knick-knacks don’t spark conversation, people are more willing to open up to a therapist with a human side. Much of the reason people get into mental health and addiction recovery is that there is a strong internal sense of humanity. Make sure this comes through in the way you present yourself and your office.
Leading by Example: Vulnerability
This leads directly into the next piece of advice: demonstrate vulnerability by example. Understandably, it is not effective to ask someone to open up about themselves while not getting vulnerable yourself. Demonstrate vulnerability and showcase the courage it takes to open up to a stranger. Allow them to see your personal side, and they will become that much more willing to get vulnerable themselves. Even if you don’t share interests with your patient, they will appreciate that you’re a human being. A therapist’s openness can create an air of willingness to share and communicate.
Give it a Break!
Heavy topics and intense emotions can be exhausting. Really, life is exhausting – all the time. This is true for both professionals and patients, it’s a defining component of the human experience. While some people may need a whole session to cover a single issue, others will want to break up their stories and troubles with humor. Others will stop and start frequently to comport themselves while confronting their fears, triggers, anxieties, and addictions. Your decorations and personal items can create a mental and verbal break from the intensity of each session. In turn, your patient can relax, breathe, and take what may be a much-needed moment of self-care. This allows you both to shift, as needed, between the heavy topics that need to be addressed, and the lighter subjects of personal connection. Remember that patients need time to be reinvigorated and ready to discuss the issues a second time.
A New Way to Interact
Done well and with the right patient, these strategies also open up a whole new language for them to express themselves. Patients may have difficulty explaining how they feel on a physical, emotional, or even metaphysical level. Still, by developing a personal and casual dialogue, you may be providing your patients with the language they need to truly express themselves.
The service space is part of the recovery and rehabilitation itself. Just as the environment is a significant factor in determining different diagnoses, the environment also defines your office space. Lead by example, and proudly show why they should speak with you as a professional who is ready to listen to them as a person. Whether this is accomplished through books in your office, the objects on your desk, or the posters on the wall, a personal touch is crucial. After all, everyone is more willing to open up if they feel like they have made a connection beyond professional courtesy.
For those looking for a place to begin their own journeys, or simply looking for more information on what that first step can look like for them, there is help available. Contact Alta Centers at 1-888-202-2583 for more information on their unique take on the detox and recovery process. Focused on keeping ties with the larger society during the recovery process, and specializing in redefining what “fun” can look like during the process, Alta Centers are a unique and modern take on the recovery process that can be with someone during each step of the way, and provide guidance based on the needs of each individual. Utilizing personalized programs depending on the goals set by the patients themselves, Alta Centers prides itself on being able to create unique paths to success.