Use your notepad to claim your chair before the client enters the room. If you can sit where you need to be, there will be no unease to be misinterpreted by the client.

A prison inmate advised me that I was sitting in the “wrong place”. I wasn’t sure what he meant. He explained that I had naively given him the chair nearest the panic button. Although he had no plans to attack me or hold me to ransom, he was concerned that I might make the same error with some of his less forgiving peers.

There are many reasons why a therapist might wish to occupy a given seat in the consulting room: security (proximity to the panic button and/or the door), easy access to equipment (phone, instruments or tests), presentation (if taping the session) or simply a different view. One GP’s room I used had a skeleton in the corner! I always made sure my clients were facing away from this, particularly in discussions of bereavement and chronic illness.

Many consulting rooms, especially those designated for counselling, offer no obvious clues as to where the client should sit: there will be two chairs of equal size and comfort, with water jug, glasses and a box of tissues equidistant from the two. The above considerations (ease of escape, view of the clock, etc) may still apply, but unless the therapist always precedes the client into the room, there may be a scuffle over the seating.

Unease over the seating, especially when you are not sitting where you should in order to comply with advice on safety, will communicate to the client but ambiguously. The client, usually unfamiliar with your concerns, may decide that your unease is due to their presentation, impeding rapport.

If you have access to the consulting room prior to meeting the client, leave your note pad / clipboard / diary on the chair you need to occupy. Claiming your chair in this way leaves the client with a free choice of the other chairs in the room. In fifteen years of practice, I have only encountered one person sufficiently assertive to pick up my note pad and move it another chair in order that he could sit where he wished!

3 Responses

  1. I usually claim my seat with an arm motion toward a particular seat for them and a “come on in” sort of thing. the clipboard is a better idea.

  2. My psychologist allows me to sit where ever I want, which I like because then I’m comfortable with where I am sitting and am better able to particpate in my therapy.

    Now I always sit in the same chair and I believe I would become very uncomfortable if she had me sit in a different chair.

    It never occured to me that that you may be uncomfortable with where you are sitting… interesting.

  3. There is nothing worse than when a client sits in the wrong chair… creates an initial sense of unease in the session which is unnecessary and could be otherwise avoided …. great tip, thanks 🙂

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