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  • Ashley Cook, PhD, MS-LPC

Creating a Space to Heal

For the past several years, the pandemic has stopped us from meeting in the office together, reminding us just how important our bodies are to the therapy process and highlighting the role of our little refuge of the therapy office. As clients, you have had to create your own therapeutic spaces for the past several years in bathrooms, cars, closets, bedrooms, outdoors, or in your home office. Sometimes folks make tea or wrap up in a blanket and, at the most basic level, search for privacy within cohabitated spaces. As we look forward to the time when we will be together again in the same space, we have been working hard to create a therapy space to greet you in the future. Although we have not been able to welcome you into the office, your presence is implied everywhere.


Healing in Collaboration with Space


The therapy office is a space set apart from the busyness of everyday life. Its purpose is to contain some of our most vulnerable emotions, to provide comfort and privacy in which to discuss difficult times. The magic happens when we make the choice to inhabit that space together in the hopes of connection and insight. Sometimes space alone can tell the human nervous system to relax; it can evoke comforting memories, and put us at ease. It acts as a silent partner helping us to stay grounded and connected. At Yahara Healing, we believe healing happens through connection in relationships with each other, our community, and nature. Our therapy space is meant to reflect the experience of connection that is so important to us.


In April of 2022, Yahara Healing expanded and moved to a new space on the Northside of Madison. Our space includes offices for each therapist and our own waiting room. Our expansion has allowed us to think more creatively about the type of space we wish to create that represents Yahara Healing. While we wanted to include essential elements of traditional therapy practices–such as privacy, comfortable seating, and a welcoming environment-- we also wanted to offer a space that really feels like us and includes personal touches. These are important aspects of creating a safe and comfortable space that aren't possible to create in larger agencies.


As we set up our new office space, we paid particular attention to how clients might experience our space. We tended and watered over 50 plants, selected furniture to fit bodies of all sizes, draped curtains and laid rugs, assembled a library with helpful and inspiring books, sampled beverages and snacks we would serve to visitors, and thrifted radios from the 1990s to play our favorite local radio programs–all anticipatory gestures for when we can safely meet for in-person sessions. As our space continues to provide a backdrop for virtual sessions, we hope that you can feel a part of this healing space we have created with you in mind.


Artwork


We want this space to reflect ourselves and our relationship with each other, our relationship with Madison and our community, and all the relationships we have with you. Art for the walls of the office was the last element we needed to incorporate into our space. Selecting art works felt like a very direct way to express our values through visual expression of human emotions and experience. It has to match the decor of course, but it also has to entertain by drawing the eye and maintaining the interest of the viewer.


We attended the Spring gallery night this past May to search for artwork that represented our community, Wisconsin’s natural beauty, and some of the relationships that exist between them. After being apart from our community all winter during the pandemic we were so grateful to have an experience safely interacting with our Madison neighbors on a hot spring evening. As we drifted from Atwood to Willy Street, we ran into our friends and neighbors and saw faces of all ages that had been absent from our lives for the past few years. The whole event culminated in many happy interactions. Although we have a lot of thoughts about representations of bodies and judgments made by cultural narratives, we chose only non-figural works this time. We selected several pieces that were naturalistic depictions of Wisconsin flora and fauna.


We chose a picture representing sumac and birch, both important plants to Wisconsin Native communities.



Kessler, E. untitled, paper 11 x 14; image 7 3/4 x 12 in, undated.


We chose a drawing depicting two loons swimming in a lake surrounded by pines and grasses, which reminded us of our annual camping trip in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.


A print depicting a Cedar Waxwing eating a berry is a part of our collection. Cedar Waxwings are social, non-territorial birds who can often be seen picking berries and passing them down the line to share with friends. They remind us of the importance of caring relationships.


Emily Marie. untitled, 10 x 8 in, undated.


We also chose several abstract pieces that we feel represent us and the energy we bring to therapy.



Day, Talia. untitled, 11 x 14 in, undated.




Hamen, Stephanie. Uncorked, 16 11/16 x 10 14/16 in, 2018.


This interpretation of a waterfall is dreamlike and otherworldly.


Schneiter, T. Waterfall, 14 x 11 in, undated.


One particular abstract piece with arching blue lines feels like a guardian and reminds us of Stonehenge or ancient Pictish rock carvings in Scotland.



Rendall, Clark. untitled, 22 1/4 x 15 in, 1/10, 2021.


As the sun sank, we made our way to Olbrich Gardens which was also hosting several artists as a part of gallery night. We chose a drawing by a local grade schooler who was donating all her proceeds to charity. Its one of our most favorite pieces as the piece joyfully states “i LOVE YOU WRRLD”. This piece captured a sentiment that we value and hope to share with our community even in challenging times.



Artist unknown. untitled, crayon on paper, 10 6/16 x 14 in, 2022.


We also discovered the work of Hannah Sandvold who captures landscapes using natural pigments and handmade paper inspired by our connection with the natural world. Their style utilizes strong lines and oscillates between rich earth tones and greens to bright, almost neon, contrasting color combinations. We acquired as much of their work as we could get our hands on because we appreciate their interpretation of healing landscapes.



Sandvold, Hannah. untitled, 24 1/4 x 12 3/8 in, undated.



Sandvold, Hannah. Sentinel,paper 7 1/4 x 5 15/16; image 6 x 5 in, 18/30, 2019.



Sandvold, Hannah. untitled, 4 1/2 x 4 1/2 inch, undated.


Choosing the art for our new space was done with your healing and in mind. We selected meaningful works from our community, pieces that we felt reflected the relationships with the natural world and the community that we hope will offer you inspiration and support. We can’t welcome you back yet, but you may see some of these artworks on zoom, and as soon as we can safely welcome you into the space we hope you’ll take some time to notice them. If you'd like to learn more about the artists and their pieces, all artists are credited with all available websites linked below the images.


Tips for Creating Your Own Healing Space


As we continue to meet virtually, we understand the necessity of being able to do therapy wherever you land for that particular hour, but, if you have the ability to control some aspects of your own space, here are a few suggestions to help you set up your own therapeutic environment. One of the most important ways that physical space contributes to therapy is by providing a confidential and safe environment. Try to choose a location that has good internet connection but also will provide some sound barriers between you and others inhabiting the space. While it is possible to conduct sessions with others nearby, this can make it difficult to be fully vulnerable and access your emotions. It also jeopardizes the element of confidentiality that is the baseline for the unique relationship between therapist and client. Next, try to think about your sensory experience of the space. What items in your home can help you feel safe and relaxed?


Here is a list of some suggestions:

  • Tea or another beverage

  • Water

  • Blankets and pillows

  • Soft socks or bare feet

  • Stuffed animals

  • Support animal or pet

  • Lower lighting

  • White noise machine or fan either outside the space or in the distance

  • Putting tech devices on silent and out of reach

  • Journals, notebooks, and art supplies


It's a Process


We look forward to the time when we will be together again in the same space. In the meantime, we're happy to keep exploring the healing and connection fostered in the spaces we build to house our virtual sessions.


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