A Room is More Than Space

I don’t know if I am a believer of feng shui. I can see and feel if a room is more inviting, or makes me feel exiled or uncomfortable. Maybe I am a partial believer of feng shui. Maybe my approach to a room is based on a sensitivity to the room’s energy achieved by my training as a therapist. In all treatment, the way a room is set up is important. You want to be efficient in the way you facilitate treatment, you don’t want your client to feel any anxiety because the room has too much or too little space, you want to have room to facilitate therapeutic interventions, room set up is important to treatment. I feel that with music therapy, having an appropriately organized space for intervention facilitation is key. If you have too much space and you’re working with a child with attention deficits, redirection of unfocused behavior can inhibit maximizing the time you have in the session. If you have too little space and you’re facilitating a movement-through-music group where a considerable amount of space is needed, you’re clients may become frustrated. I remember room set up being a part of my grade while in my clinical practicum during undergrad. 

When you sit in a room, do you focus on all the space around you as well as your center of focus, be it people or work? Try this: Right now as you read these words, bring your awareness to the screen. Become aware of where your hands are placed…the contact points they have with the desk/mouse/iPad/phone/etc…how are you holding your body? What are you feeling right now? What else is in the room? What is occupying the space above you? Notice the space around you and the weight it carries. Take a few moments and notice how it feels to be surrounded with space that you may not have pay attention to before. 

Space is important. I had a client in the past who survived a suicide attempt. She had a primary diagnosis of schizophrenia, paranoid type. She was involved in prostitution. She was over that part of her life and was in love with a man who she thought didn’t love her because of her suicidal ideation. The first time I met her she was uninvolved, withdrawn, and declined to come to music therapy groups. She agreed to individual sessions with me which immediately followed the group session.

From the chart review, I gathered that she needed comfort, care, and to be held. I felt she needed to be held and supported by the music so she could fully express herself and her sadness. I set the instruments up in a semi circle and put her chair in the middle of the instruments in the middle of the room. I sat across from her. I walked her to her chair and she was amazed by the instruments. She opened up almost immediately about her experience. She said she felt comfortable in the room and that made it easier for her to share her thoughts with me…thoughts she said she couldn’t comfortably share with her psychiatrist. When she shared music with me, I supported her music and did not impose any ideas, intially. Over time, she was able to express herself  with music easier than before, and she allowed space in her music for mine. We were able to advance in our improvisatory music by adding roles to the music we shared. From this, she began sharing more about her personal life.

Over her treatment, she shared that her initial depression in early adulthood was related to the physical abuse she experienced as a child. This was a detail she shared with no one else and was not in any of her charts. I set the room up the same way every session. I created this metaphysical cradle for her out of these instruments. I supported her voice with music. She felt safe. She trusted me. I feel that the room set up was one of the major keys to the success of her treatment. The instruments created an order for her, a structure that she didn’t have upon entering treatment. She mostly played the djembe in our time together. She was grounding herself. The music she played reflected her need for compassion. She felt that compassion and positive energy and support initially from the instruments, the metaphysical cradle they created for her…a cradle within she could explore these feelings from the past. 

I shared this story with you as a reminder of how important everything is in a therapeutic environment. Because of this experience I shared with this client, I always take at least 2-3 minutes to myself in a therapy room after I set it up to walk around and just notice everything around me. I put myself in the client’s perspective, I play music on the instruments in the room, I sing, I take a few deep breaths…all just to be sure that everything is right. I listen to the sound in the room when I am not talking to make sure there are no distractions. You might try a few of these suggestions when you walk into a room to concentrate on a matter of importance, be it therapeutic work or even just to complete paperwork.