A Tale of Two Coffee Makers

Making and sharing coffee is a bonding experience with clientsSome time after I started my practice, I decided to bring a coffee maker into my office. This small pot worked perfectly for making coffee or tea to share with a client.

For several of my clients, a tradition evolved around this coffee maker. I had several varieties of coffee and tea. Most clients would establish a favorite flavor early on, and we would brew a pot together. One of us would fill the pot with water while the other dealt with the filter and the coffee or tea. And as the pot was brewing, the client could check in with me about the week.

There was a lovely togetherness about this ritual. It gave clients a routine that helped them to settle and to transition from whatever they’d been doing or thinking about to that, “you and me together, right now” feeling that I like to facilitate in clients. Us both having an equal role in making the coffee also conveyed an equality and a collaboration that was useful to the kind of collaboration I like to facilitate in sessions.

And with a new client, I’d find out early on if any of my current coffees or teas were up their alley. If not, I’d ask what they did like, and would make sure it was on hand so they could have it next time. It was a simple gesture, as was remembering their preference. It was a way of saying, “There is a place for you and your preferences here. You’re worth it to me to make sure there’s something for you here.

Clients’ reaction to the coffee making also could tell me a lot about themselves. One client expressed disdain for the selection of coffees I had. She requested a particular tea, but was indifferent when I had it on hand for her next session. I got to see firsthand a hint about the mysterious breaking off of relationships she experienced over and over again in her life! She couldn’t tell me directly what contributed to these relationship problems, but she could demonstrate it.

A prospective client wanted me to do everything for her: make the coffee, add her cream and sugar, and then hand her the cup. We were not a good fit.

Some clients start out by telling me that they’ll have whatever I have myself. It’s a marker of improvement when they start to ask for what they actually want.

Some clients would bring in coffee from a nearby Starbucks instead.

There was just so much to notice about people’s behavior!

And then, I had the idea to get a Keurig coffee maker. I was thinking logistically, that it would be so much easier if each client could just pick her own favorite coffee, put that flavor in the Keurig, and voila — a cup made just for them. It would minimize clean up. It would save time. It would just make everything easier.

What happened? My clients and I promptly quit drinking coffee together! I’d taken the intimacy, and the ritual of making it together, away. Some clients still occasionally made themselves a cup, but the magic is clearly gone. I didn’t realize just how many functions my homey little coffee maker was serving until it was gone.

Last week, I decided to donate my Keurig to the whole second floor, taking it out of my office and putting it into the common area for everyone to share.

It immediately felt better to me. A client remarked, “You know, it always seemed kind of out of place in your waiting room.” We realized that the homeyness of the other coffee maker was its charm, and that the act of making something to drink together was about more than coffee.

I haven’t yet brought back my homey coffee maker, but I’m glad the Keurig is out in a common area where everyone can use it, but where it isn’t compromising the homey, living-room ambiance I strive for. These days, while I don’t serve coffee, I do have a mini fridge with water bottles, and I have some meal bars on hand for clients who arrive to sessions hungry. I still value little gestures of care for my clients’ physical comfort. And I’m far more consciously aware now of the multiple layers of communication that can be embedded in something as simple as my choice of coffee machine.



About Michaela Lonning

I'm a counselor in Corvallis, Oregon, working mostly with trauma, attachment, and relationship issues. I'm a co-founder of Unlicensed-Practitioner.com and have two other Web sites: Michaela's Counseling and Trauma Therapy 101 I have the dubious distinction of being one of many victims of the Oregon Board of Psychologist Examiners, which claims I'm "practicing psychology without a license" simply by being a counselor under Oregon's Educational Licensing exemption.

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