We were given homework this week, which was to imagine our own ideal counselling room. Here is what I came up with.

The building itself is old, with period features and a lot of character. It is in a centralised location, somewhere near Portsmouth and Southsea train station, maybe five or so minutes’ walk away. I say near a train station, so people can easily get to my location from further afield. Ideally I would like it near an open green space, which would hopefully generate a serene calmness in the neighbourhood. If not near a field, then maybe near the ocean – you could replace Portsmouth and Southsea station with Portsmouth Harbour and have the building near the ocean. That would evoke memories in me of being on holiday, away from the stresses of “real” life. I would not like a window overlooking the brick wall of another building.

The waiting area is a spacious room dressed in deep natural colours, with dark ebony furniture. There is a line of chairs along one wall and a coffee table just in front of them. Items on this coffee table include a postcard sized booklet of inkblots, short meditation guides and a few thoughtful books, such as “The Things You Can Only See When You Slow Down” by Haemin Sunim, “The Way of the Superior Man” by David Deida and “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Dr Spencer Johnson. The other items on the coffee table are a marble globe resting on a brass assemblage, and various keys of different size, weight and texture that make you want to pick them up and examine them. On the walls are large images of Rorschach-style inkblots, which demand closer inspection. A lectern hides a credit card payment terminal, a box of change and a handful of appointment cards. Despite the dark furniture and décor, the room is bright thanks to the natural light flowing in through the windows.

An example of dark wood furniture in the bright waiting area

The counselling room itself is sparse, with few distractions. Darker than the waiting area, the curtains are slightly pulled to, and the blinds are partially shut. Although the room is dressed in dark colours, it is not a dark room, as four tall lamps provide most of the light, one sits in each corner – There is enough light in the room to clearly see the other people, their facial expressions and body language. The walls are textured with dark wooden panelling, which help the almost empty room not look imposingly empty. I think a large painting taking up one of the walls could be quite nice, maybe something tribal and abstract, with wild lines and dark accents. There are two tub chairs and a sofa in the room which can be re-arranged easily to cater for sessions with an individual or a couple, as well as a large desk-like table against one wall. One chair is grey, one chair is dark red, and the sofa is a deep green. As well as these there is a small table, upon which sits a chess clock, or maybe an hourglass (depending on my level of experience at keeping time internally), as well as an ornate box which contains tissues. A small chest of drawers houses things like pens, pencils and paper; in case the client wants to express themselves that way.

The rooms I have had therapy in have been very functional, like a school classroom or an office, with practical furniture and very efficient lighting. This reflects the clinical type of CBT therapy I received in those rooms. I have also had counselling via a webcam, which was interesting, as I was in my own room, yet I could not see anything of note in the counsellor’s room as it looked like he had attached a beige sheet to the wall behind him. The idea of my ideal counselling room is very different to both of those settings as the places I have had therapy and counselling were devoid of personal touches, they were very plain and sterile, whereas the physical environment in which counselling by me would take place could be described as mysterious and could even evoke a feeling of mysticism. Maybe that’s a little pretentious? I fully realise that as time goes on, my designs and ideas could very well change, especially as I become more aware of other counselling spaces and how they have been subtly designed over time and with expertise to fully suit the nature of counselling.

Illustrating the textured wall in the counselling room

My goals for the future are… Not set in stone. I know I want to help people, but how I help them is still up for consideration. I know I would love a little office or a practise of my own one day, but it is a long way off yet. I also know that now I am on this path of self-enlightenment, self-improvement and self-discovery, I will walk it until my last days on this Earth. I feel I have wasted too much of my precious time on this planet giving in to my own selfish desires – it is time I give back in a way that I feel my personality and my own individual “way of being” would be concordant with. Regardless, I feel that this comparison of the two different spaces tells me that I want to do something my way, put my own personal spin on it, and with a sense of my own particular style.

In designing this counselling space, I have learned that I would like to inject my own personal style and beliefs on the place I work. I have had an image in my mind since before the course started to be honest, and that is what I am working towards. It could be understood that the rooms I have described above project my core values as a counsellor, as I believe it portrays a professional image, and gives the impression that I have the vaguest idea that I know what I am doing; or at least “future me” does. I feel that having such a unique space dedicated to allowing people to share their problems with me conveys confidence in my ability and the importance of my desire to help people. I know I have a long way to go yet, and that the journey never ends, but it is nice to have a goal.

I think my designs maybe reflect my perception of the human mind being mysterious and infinite. In terms of theoretical approaches, Carl Rogers’ humanistic, client centred approach appeals most to me at this point, and several themes of this approach are mirrored in my designs: A feeling of genuineness in the ability to show myself honestly and congruently in the décor I have chosen, the warm, homely and accepting feel of the furniture, but most importantly, the empowering impression that the space gives you that you are allowed to be a unique person in this world and have your own likes, opinions and tastes when it comes to any aspect of your life, not just enjoying having antique keys on a table.

A Rorschach inspired inkblot

Jungian theory also piques my interest. I am fascinated with the unconscious mind, and I like to interpret my own dreams and those of other people. The Rorschach-style inkblots are definitely an influence of my casual knowledge of psychoanalysis. Mindfulness and meditation are important parts of my life nowadays, and I would also like to use the space for guided meditation, which the serene location of the practise would no doubt help. Art therapy is also of interest to me, as I consider myself quite an artistic person, and I enjoy drawing and am always eager to see other people’s drawings; I feel it is almost another form of empathy, a way of seeing how they see the world. I love the idea that more abstract forms of art like Zentangles and Mandalas can reveal a lot about a person, and am eager to explore it further. All of the chairs in the room fit nicely under the large desk-like table that is against one of the walls.

In terms of specific groups of people, I would like to help middle-aged men navigate their mid-lives. I had a limited idea of what help was available when I had my midlife crisis, but I didn’t really feel like I had anywhere to turn. I’d like to raise awareness of male suicide and its causes through social media and mobile advertising. I want men to know that if they need a guiding light through the long dark night of their soul, I will be the torch. This links to the tall up-lighting lamps. Once I have some more experience and am a little more confident, I would like to run a support group for men as well.

A tall lamp

You may have noticed there was a couch in the room as well as some chairs – I would also like to gain experience in couples counselling as I believe that no relationship is unsalvageable, no matter how much they individuals have changed, how many bad feelings and how much resentment is present, especially when children are involved. Just writing up that statement made me realise how much it reflects my own personal desire that my parents had never split up. I cannot see how my design is linked to wanting to counsel couples, but I’m sure if I went deeper I would find a connection somewhere.

I would also like to counsel young people and help them find strength and direction in life, especially at such a crucial and pivotal time. It is something that I feel I would have benefitted from when I was a teenager, but I don’t think I can offer this service from my own personal ivory tower. I don’t know if such a position exists, or how school counsellors are contracted to work, but a visit once a week to a school as their counsellor and career advisor would fill me with a warm sense of well-being. Perhaps the classroom setting and office-style furniture would cause me to be a little more practical in applying my knowledge in this role, rather than dissecting student’s dreams like some kind of amateur psychoanalyst. Being trusted with children’s future and working out with them what they want to do with their lives would definitely be more suited to an office in a school than my edgy counselling room.

In short, I would like to gain as wide a variety of experience as possible.

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