When you decided to become a therapist, did you think about the fact that you’d be sitting in a chair for hours on end? It’s likely your grad school didn’t offer a class on helping clinicians sit all day. How do you manage it now? And how does the way you sit affect your clients’ experience in sessions?
I recently asked some workshop participants to role-play a typical therapy setup, in which a clinician sits in a chair across from a client. At one point in this mock session, the therapist leaned forward in her chair to show support and offer comfort to her client—a routine movement that felt quite natural to her. She was shocked to learn later that the client had felt discomfort instead. The therapist’s posture, she reported, made her feel pressured, as if her space was being invaded and she had no room to be herself.
When the therapist looked at her own embodied experience of leaning forward, she discovered that she was feeling tension in the front of her torso and in her legs. She also noticed her breath was shallow and cut off in this position. It certainly wasn’t a stance of openness, despite her thinking she’d been embodying a state of open curiosity.
How can we fix this? To start, I asked the therapist to feel her sitting bones drop into her chair as she allowed her spine to lengthen and widen. She immediately felt more breath and less tension, which was noticeable to others. As we went back to the mock session, the client felt like she had more…