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The Spaces that Shape Us

As some of you might know, I am in the midst of moving my practice to a new setting. The process has prompted me to think more closely about how the spaces we create in turn shape us. As a behaviorist my first step is often to see what quick environmental changes I can help a family or a classroom make to promote positive outcomes. Now I find myself faced with planning a new therapeutic space that will hopefully do just that. So I decided to look a bit more closely at some of the research on the subject. Colin Ellard, a cognitive neuroscientist, investigates the relationship between our minds and the environments we live in. This field is psychogeography, which, Ellard explains, 'is the study of the relationship between the places that we move through in our everyday life and the effects that those places have on our minds'.

One statement that he said struck me. He states, "...we like to be in positions where we have some feeling of protection, or refuge, but at the same time we can see what's going on around us; we have a vista in front of us". This immediately made me think of some of the settings that work best for parents and their children working through problematic behaviors. For example, many of my younger clients dislike the idea of "cooling off" in their rooms, because they feel cut off from the family. Likewise, these same children cannot regulate themselves while in the center of the living environment, such as in a living room or a dining room area. Many of my families have found success in creating "chill out" nooks in their homes for their children (and sometimes the parents!) to use when life gets overwhelming. This can be a fun collaborative experience that combines pulling in elements of physical comfort (think bean bag chair), sensory needs (fidget toys/lotion/brushes), and preferred activities (art/music/books). These spaces are often received best by children when they are, as Ellard expresses, protective but not isolating.

The same principles can be applied to our spaces as adults. With a little planning and organizing we can create home or work spaces that help us feel connected to our family but also provide us with some comfort and protection. A favorite blanket, a lovely plant, or a stack of treasured photo albums (remember those?) can be parts of a "chill out" nook for us as well. Whatever it is that you choose to surround yourself and your children with, think "connected but protected" and have fun creating spaces that you love.

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