Design for a psychotherapist office

"Bauen, wohnen, denken" (Martin Heidegger; translate: "Build to dwell to think")

"When in doubt, wait it out," (Michael Eigen)

Other than chance encounters,
we can only encounter in reality,
what we have previously encountered in fantasy.
(Gordon Hirshhorn)
My (BMcC) 6 weeks playing at being an architecture student, in the 1981 Harvard Career Discovery Program, was back when architectural design was still a T-square and drafting table hand craft. I had some talent for expressing my ideas in "mechanical drawing", but my lack of freehand drawing facility proved an insuperable barrier to getting into a prestige M.Arch. program (i.e., a school that had graduate dorms, so that one could devote oneself to studying instead of also having to cope with logistics of "living").

My interest in architecture continued, however. When I bought a Macintosh Mac Plus computer in 1990, one of the applications I bought was Claris CAD, which cost half as much as the computer (ca. $600). My aptitude for "mechanical drawing", and my experience making computer graphic art with a primitive IBM mainframe-based CAD program (Yorktown Drawing System), carried over into quickly becoming adept with Claris CAD. It became a tool I could think with (as opposed to being an opaque medium with which I would have to struggle to get any ideas "through").

I like to engage with things that interest me from many different perspectives. Consequently, when I enrolled in a psychoanalytic training program (1990-94), one of the ways I engaged with that subject was by designing an office for a psychotherapist -- thinking about how to make it as good as possible a place to do therapy (see: example therapy session, here), imagining what it would be like to do therapy in such a space, etc. I had hoped this creative approach to thinking about psychoanalysis would appeal to the training institute's faculty, since psychoanalysis is largely "about" imagination -- but it didn't. (The resulting design is reproduced above. 24 July 1998, a graphic artist at Grolier Inc. scanned a printout from the Apple Imagewriter II dot-matrix printer I had, to generate a .gif file; I apologize that the image-quality is somewhat compromised due to the original having been not exactly aligned straight on the scanner.)

The site for the office is a small plot of urban land, 40 by 30 feet, with the back and both sides "blind", and the front (bottom, as shown) side open to the street, butting right up to the sidewalk. The main entrance is recessed, so that persons entering and leaving have some shelter from the weather, as well as the symbolism of a "transitional space" (ref.: D.W. Winnicott). A second door allows basement service access without intruding on therapist or patient(s). To relieve the claustrophobic enclosure of the site, there are two interior "dry gardens": gravel/rock gardens in the Japanese style (Ryoanji, etc. -- or perhaps a moss garden, like Saihoji). The therapist has a small kitchen/business office, where he or she can work and relax, away from the patients, and which a bookkeeper could enter and leave without intruding on therapy sessions. The waiting room doubles as a group therapy room (conference or lecture room, etc.).

In general, I tried to "pack" as rich a variety of spaces and perspectives as possible into the small area; this intention was greatly enhanced by placing the big (waiting/group...) room on an angle. I don't think this rotation is simply a [postmodernist] "trick", which, once one saw it, would become stale, like "yesterday's surprise ending" in a movie. It really did enable me to use the space more effectively, and add more nuances, which, hopefully, would continue to yield satisfaction, through repeated contemplation and study over the many years of a patient's analysis, and the therapist's whole lifetime.

In doing the design, I imagined myself working in the space: treating patients, greeting them in the waiting room, getting a snack from the refrigerator in the back office, looking at the gardens in the early morning and late evening, before the first patient of the day and after the last... -- and I felt it would be a nice place to do good work. I especially thought the views of the dry gardens, from the therapy room, the waiting/group room, and from the little "business office", would be refreshing and encourage imagination, through the peacefulness of the raked gravel, with perhaps a few good rocks and or small trees (there are even smaller dry gardens in some Japanese temples).

One late summer evening, after a discouraging last session of the afternoon with a middle-aging woman [name: Mary] who was going to die from metastatic lung cancer due to having smoked cigarettes -- Virginia Slims -- for many years. In the kitchen, the therapist takes a seltzer out of the refrigerator, sits down in the chair, looks out over to the dry garden, pops open the seltzer can, takes a mouthful, and muses:

"I wonder why they didn't teach us about Edward Bernays in psych school. He certainly had enough impact on the unconscious. And he was Siggy's nephew, after all.... Not everything is sexual repression, especially today, unlike his time. Yeah, I know,

sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. But cigars still did in our founder. This guy Bernays really screwed us all. Josef Goebbels was his follower, even. Heil, Eddy! I miss you, daddy.... What more can I do for you, poor Mary? [Squeezes the seltzer can tighter] Damn! You even stopped smoking.... Oh, well. Almost time for Harry Smith. Hi, Harry. Wonder what you've been up to this week? Better write up my notes on poor Mary for the insurance dudes...."


+2023.03.23 v007
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Next2a.gif Psychoanalysis -- liberation or neo-repression?
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