It’s nearly time for our first face-to-face meeting, and I feel both curious and excited.
The room I offer for us to meet and work in is very important – they will be making impressions and judgements of me and the standard of my work from here. I want to avoid any distractions or intrusive noises – sometimes these aspects are under my control and sometimes they’re not.
Some clients can feel a degree of shame about needing psychological and emotional help, and it’s important that their privacy upon arriving and leaving is respected – I’ve never had a ‘waiting room’ arrangement for that reason. (I feel passionate about removing such stigma from therapeutic help and my 12 modules of ‘The Ripple Effect’ Process aim to do that too.)
My room is prepared in a way that I would find appealing if I were coming into it for the first time. I put myself in their shoes as much as I can which helps me to better empathise with what they might be thinking or feeling about coming to see me, and about my work space. In the past as a client and group attendee myself, I’ve had some unpleasant experiences of ‘professional’ rooms – which weren’t – and I know the effect it had upon me and my willingness to connect and feel at ease. I ensure my room is clean, tidy and smells fresh (I have found out that some people really dislike, and even have an allergy to, oil burners, incense, and scented candles!). I have reference material and handouts near to hand, and I have blank paper, felt-tip pens and crayons too – also just in case their use will be beneficial (but out of view so as not to ‘scare’ anyone into thinking that there’s an expectation of them having to be artistic!)
The first thing I notice about them is whether they arrive on time, or are early or late… all of which can potentially tell me more about them and may open up our introductory comments.
As I meet them I also notice how they walk and carry themselves, and how they present themselves in the way that they choose to dress. Their walk might be stiff, haughty, lopsided, or maybe just an uncomfortable shuffle; or they might be disabled – which triggers extra questions in my mind about their past experiences, their expectations of me and how I can best accommodate them and help them to feel at ease.
Sometimes people arrive much too early and there can be an awkward overlap whereby I am still working with someone else or am busy doing something else like eating my lunch or speaking on the ‘phone. (I always allowed lots of time between clients as this suited me best and usually, but not always, avoided such incidents.) Their timing tells me something too – they may be ‘avoidably late’ (of their own choosing) and be wasting time and (perhaps subconsciously) avoiding our potential work together, or they may be a few minutes early because they’re keen to get started.
Their clothing is another give away to their state of mind and brain dominance. It may be loose, flowing, brightly coloured and with a mixture of patterns and textures; or it may be tight, dark and ‘power-dressing’; or perhaps their clothes are sexy or glamorous, or just very revealing and I can’t help but notice certain parts of their body that they are ‘displaying’.
We are all composed of energy and we notice the levels of energy in others (if we choose to do so). So I notice how energised they seem and how affected I feel by their energy – does it seem to overwhelm me, or drain me, is it tight or open, does it seem so weak as to be hardly perceivable?
How well groomed are they? Do they seem to take pride in their appearance or do they seem to have given up trying?
Do I notice a smell about them? Sometimes this might be from their chosen perfume or aftershave, or of food, alcohol or cigarettes; or on a few occasions a smell like bad rotting flesh – when their energy is very low and negative (as was later proven to be the case from their disclosed behaviour and history).
Are they attractive – according to generally held notions of attractiveness (symmetrical face, clear skin, bright eyes, bright teeth and a healthy appearance); or are they disfigured, ugly, plain, or maybe very attractive? Do they appear to have had any obvious cosmetic ‘enhancements’ of some sort which gives them an artificial look? If so, I’m curious about why. Such aspects will all have a bearing upon their earlier experiences, self-concept and their expectations from life.
Are they skinny, fat or obese? This is not a judgement but a noticing, as I then wonder how my furniture can accommodate them – which is one of the reasons that I prefer to have a sturdy but soft sofa, as well as strong, comfortable chairs. Having to sit on (or squeeze into) a small hard chair might well make a larger person – whether male and female – feel ashamed or annoyed; and an anorexic person feel very uncomfortable.
I also see where on the gender spectrum they seem to be – between the extremes of femininity and masculinity, irrespective of their actual gender (which may be in transition anyway).
I have to admit too that like any other human being I also know (immediately) if I ‘fancy them’ or am physically/sexually attracted to them. I know that I won’t act on this, and I’m clear about my ethical boundaries – as I say silently to myself… ‘I must stay in my professional adult mode… I must stay in ‘professional adult”!!
Fortunately this has only happened four or five times and I hope the men involved didn’t realise (although on a subconscious level they must have done; and my not acting on the attraction then allowed us to work much more clearly and to make use of their experience of being so handsome!).
Therapists speak of the ‘Erotic Transference’ from a client onto the therapist, and I have worked through this with a few male and female clients – whether straight, bisexual and gay. Not much has been written about the therapist firmly holding their professional ethical boundaries in such an attraction – we only tend to hear of this on those occasions when they don’t (which sadly still happens!) and the client is exploited or used in some unethical way.
What is there opening phrase? Is it about the time, the weather or the parking? Are they trying to establish some rapport with me or are they silent and subdued waiting for me to coax them out of their cave, or to calm their spinning and chaotic emotions?
They will have already seen my picture on my website and I wonder why they chose me to work with (I do sometimes ask this because it’s also very telling) and what do they expect me to be like based upon how I look, and/or sound on the ‘phone? I have had clients chose me because of my name and their own associations to it – things that are also out of my control but which may affect how they see me and whether they will emotionally engage with me or not. Time will tell – or at least the next few minutes will…