I provide individual counseling in a group home on a weekly basis, and with that responsibility comes some interesting challenges. When I first started working at this residence the supervisor provided me with a tour of the house and showed me the room that was given to the .clinicians. It was a your standard first floor living room with a couple couches some plants and a TV. For the first few weeks I met with all individuals in this room, but not without some difficulty. I had one client who was particularly hesitant to join me in this room week after week.
The client would come in, but was quiet and withdrawn, and at first I assumed this individual just didn’t like me. “We were in for a rough journey,” I thought, and this went on for several weeks. Something had to change, or we were going to go nowhere. So I decided to change my approach. Each week when it was her time, rather than asking her to come down and join me, because her room was on the 2nd floor, I joined her upstairs in another common area she preferred. Soon after, our sessions together improved and we began to make significant progress. Resistance decreased and participation was at an all time high.
After a few weeks I asked her about our initial sessions, and to reflect on what she thinks has changed. She shared that she didn’t like meeting in the downstairs room because it made her feel uncomfortable. She shared that there were several “spaces” in the residence she was uncomfortable with because they were aggressive hot zones for some of her roommates. These were areas her roommates were highly likely to have physically aggressive outbursts and she’d prefer to stay out of their way. She avoided these areas at all costs. She then took me on a more emotional tour of the residence, labeling the “good” and “bad” parts. I found this fascinating and never once had I considered this as a reason for our bumpy start.
I’ve learned to approach residential treatment much differently, and that when I’m entering an individual’s home, the space is not just the space, it’s another piece of the puzzle that can help tell the client’s story.
I’m interested hearing the challenges you’ve faced when counseling in the homes of clients.
Jaime Castillo is a counselor who works for a non-profit agency in New York City.