I grew up living with my mother in my grandparents’ tastefully arranged household. It was a quiet space, where a glass-topped breakfront displayed delicate china, and polished surfaces were covered with lace tablecloths. The sense of stillness in the house allowed the usually unnoticed details of a room to come to the foreground of awareness.
When it’s clear that no ball playing, roughhousing, or running will be allowed, one has no choice but to sit quietly and listen—and in that silence, those rooms would whisper stories to me, all kinds of narratives that curved around the contours of a couch, surprised me at the corner of a cabinet, played with the light glinting off the bronze chandelier. Though I couldn’t yet fully grasp what these rooms were trying to say, I could sense them wordlessly conveying their spirit to me.
Having retained this attunement to the psychology of space into adulthood, I was jolted when, early in my clinical training, my therapist switched offices. I’d become used to meeting in a small, cozy, book-lined room, where a clock sat at eye level on a shelf. I felt safe and shared freely there, with a sense of being contained and cared for. The books, colors, natural light, and comfortable seating were all part of the room’s special poetry.
When she moved into a much larger space, the view from the couch changed. Rather than neatly shelved books, I now gazed upon…