Moving a play therapy office....lessons learned.
Let's be clear. The decision to move locations for a play therapy practice is entirely therapist driven. Children are content with a 3'x3' space for play. I've done it countless times over the course of my professional life being relegated to former closets to do my work with children. Perhaps the most infamous location was the intern room at our beloved internship site. It shall go unnamed as it was an amazing training experience and I don't want to malign the site in any way. However, the interns worked in a hot box. In Southern California temperatures can soar and we were all crammed into a fairly small room to manage our paperwork, store our belongings, etc. It was ridiculously hot and sometimes we would choose to eat our lunches in our cars with the air conditioning running because it was more pleasant. For some reason we were shocked and surprised to discover that the intern room was the former site of the dumpster. They simply enclosed and painted the cinderblock wall and made it our home. There was another occasion in which I was promoted and allowed to keep only a few clients. The decision was made to move me into a former storage closet because I didn't need the space of a regular therapy office anymore. I certainly learned the value of advocating for myself after that experience.
Recently we had the opportunity to move to a larger suite after our lease expired so that brings me to this blog post. We (by we I mean myself and my friend and colleague Dr. Eric Terry), had been in our present space for 10 years. We are play therapists, the subtext there is that we have accumulated a LOT of toys in the years we've been in practice. In fact we were placed on internship together and that is when we began accumulating toys for our work in 1999. After almost 20 years we have amassed....well let's just say quite a few items. To put it simply, we were bursting at the seams. The decision to buy toys is often therapist driven as well. If we are honest, we get tired of the same toys year after year and when other toys can accomplish the same ends, we mix it up for ourselves. We also both have extensive training in sandplay (which is for another blog post), but has led to a fairly large collection of miniatures.
The thing that primarily prohibits a move is the thought of packing up all of those toys. Everyone who had been to our office would cringe a little when we mentioned a move. Thankfully I was in Indiana recently and mentioned the move to a therapist there named Sandy Tucker. I will forever be grateful to Sandy for referencing her own recent move and the tip she received from another therapist. Here it goes...wrap your shelves in plastic wrap! I cannot adequately tell you how much time this saved. Everything, I mean everything, fell over but it all stayed on it's respective shelf and saved us countless hours of packing and unpacking. Thank you Sandy!
There were countless other things-like take advantage of the opportunity to inventory what you've got, replace toys that need replacing, reorganize your playroom so that the types of play materials are grouped together in a way that makes sense, group arts and crafts together, pretend play together, etc., get rid of toys that aren't used, add some wishlist items and dream big, but most importantly make the transition about the children.
Our very first office on our own, all those years ago was tiny. We barely had any room to meet with parents or to play with children. We were ecstatic to move to our new larger suite and were naive enough to think the children would be equally excited. Imagine our disappointment when they missed the old playroom. This was a lesson and a reminder though that the space was about us and not about them. We wanted more room, children were content with the tiny space we had because it was a safe place. It was a place where they were free to explore, free to express anger, pain, sadness, loss....and that's what mattered most to them. What we have had created in each our playrooms was in traditional analytic terms was the frame for therapy. This is what they need, the relationship with caring and safe adults to grow and to heal. It's a reminder of the gift of working with them, they care little for the trappings of a play therapy space and care much more about the relationship. In anticipation of the loss children would feel at leaving the old space, we had the opportunity to help them prep for it. I began talking about it, assuring them that everything would go with us to the new office (they were quite concerned we would forget something), and when construction was completed, we took a walk across the courtyard to show the new space. Luckily we were staying in the same building so it was easy to take them over for it.
This week was our first full week in the office and the children responded predictably. They were excited about new toys, missed the old space, and had trouble adjusting. Herein lies the therapy. The adjustment, the management of the transition, the work of trying to feel regulated with all of these changes going on around them, became the work of the week. We forget how often we expect children to just roll with transitions. Change is hard and uncomfortable. I expect it to continue for a couple of more weeks, but we will be there, the same presence as always, helping the children set a new frame and to remind them and ourselves that the true power of therapy happens not in a physical space, but an emotional and psychological one.