There are undeniably many benefits to working inside an office for many clients. There is a feeling of safety, and a container that can yield openness, vulnerability, and true connection with the therapist. It is no wonder that the field of psychotherapy for the most part relies on offices as a principal environment for modern day therapy.
I have found though that for some populations an office may not be the most effective means. For some people getting to an office might not be possible physically or psychologically. I have noticed that in the population that I work most with-- teenage boys and young adult men-- going to an office setting can trigger responses that are not conducive to forming a formidable, lasting connection that is essential for effective therapy to unfold.
In my early days as an intern I had a part time job as a group leader for middle school boys. Every year as part of the program we would take a 4 day trip in the California back country together. I noticed time and time again the degree to which the boys would open up as we sat around a camp fire together. The ritual was so uncontrived. I wasn’t tryingto get the boys to open up (which was an implicit goal of the program) -- their authenticity was simply emerging in accord with the environment we co-created.
Later I worked at a group home and would see the teenagers I worked with come to my office-- head down and shoulders shrugged. They felt like they were ‘in trouble’ when they came to see me—as though they were somehow ‘wrong’ or in need of being fixed. Not surprisingly, when I would engage them in this setting, typically they would look down, shrug, and say “I dunno” to my many questions.
I started experimenting with taking my clients on trips together in the car. I found that once we were in the car, with both of us looking forward to the road, the conversation unfolded much more naturally, and the relationship of course strengthened. I started playing basketball with my clients. They appreciated our time together and trust quickly grew as we enjoyed our time together. Over the years I have developed this style of working together therapeutically with my clients in private practice and for several years now, no longer use an office space.
Many if not most of the clients I see do not consciously ask for therapy. They are reluctant if not all together closed off to work with a therapist. Often within the context of family systems they feel they are the problem and in need of being fixed.
My work aims to undo these narratives. I meet my clients where they are at, physically and psychologically, literally and metaphorically. Whether we go for a walk through Tilden Park, shoot hoops at the neighborhood park, meet inside the home, or drive through the Berkeley hills, the goal is the same --- the continual growing of a therapeutic relationships that exists outside of the family system in which an adolescent can emerge and find himself in authenticity.