It’s the fabulously named POÄNG armchair, from IKEA. I know of at least two other therapists (in addition to my own) who has at least one of these in their consulting room/office, and a friend of mine jokingly suggested that perhaps they are endorsed by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). I suspect that their popularity is due primarily to price and comfort, but my own recommendation is based on something quite different.
The POÄNG is certainly comfortable, but it is also rather flexible. When you sit down, it has ‘a bit of give’. This may be because of the way the back is suspended and there is upright support only at the front. Or it may be because of the “layer-glued bent birch frame” which, according to the IKEA website, gives “comfortable resilience”. An apt description for a chair to be used for therapy, I feel. Or even an apt description for a therapist. Or maybe an aspirational description for a client – I would like to be “comfortably resilient” one day.
My own appreciation for the POÄNG is directly related to its flexibility and “comfortable resilience”, though not in a metaphysical sense. Although it is not a rocking chair, the fact that the back does have some ‘give in it’, means that you can easily generate a small rocking motion by leaning back and very gently pushing against the floor with your foot.
The longer I am in therapy, the more I find I am aware of the ‘context’ in which therapy happens, and of the aspects of therapy which are not related to talking, but which can still convey a great deal. I suppose it’s a sort of ‘mindfulness’ about the therapy process. Without necessarily using my awareness to change what I do, I find that I am noticing what I wear to therapy; what I choose to take with me; how I open the conversation; how much eye contact I maintain; how I’m sitting; what my body language is doing at any one time.
It was during a recent intense and emotional session, that I noticed that I was rocking backwards and forwards in the chair, and that it had an almost immediate soothing and calming effect. It didn’t reduce the distress, but it calmed down my breathing and I could actually feel my emotions slightly settling – as if I were taking a deep breath to steady myself. I caught myself doing this at several points during the session, although each time I stopped quite quickly once I became conscious (and self-conscious) about what I was doing. Thinking back, I realised that I had done the same on a number of previous occasions.
Rocking is a universal soothing technique – as any carer of a small child will know! Children experience it from the very beginning of life inside the womb, and as adults many people still retain a fondness for rocking motions, whether that is expressed through a love of rocking chairs, a hammock, or sailing on a gentle sea. It’s no surprise that for some, the experience of distress results in an unconscious attempt to self-soothe by the earliest experienced means.
I will ask my therapist why she chose to purchase the POÄNG. I suspect that she will ask “why do you want to know – what does it mean to you?”. After I’ve given her my answer, she may even give me hers – and I’m willing to bet it has more to do with the chair’s aforementioned cost and comfort, than the soothing nature of its “layer-glued bent birch frame”.
However, if the BACP needs any further persuasion to consider awarding a POÄNG to all new counsellors and psychotherapists upon the occasion of their accreditation, they should consider this. “POÄNG”, according to my trusty source “the internet”, means ‘a point‘ – as in ‘the salient point of a discussion‘. Now, if that’s not a sign that this comfortably resilient chair was built for therapy, I don’t know what is.
[Image taken from IKEA website at http://www.ikea.com/gb/en/catalog/products/S29825195/]