Ryan Howes

Ryan Howes PhD, ABPP

In Therapy

Water Bottles in Psychotherapy

Water you talking about?

Posted Oct 16, 2010

I think my office building consumes more liquid per square foot than any other building in Los Angeles.

That's because it's saturated with therapists. If you sit in the lobby at 55 minutes past the hour you'll see a platoon of clients loading into the elevators to make it to their session. Most carry water, coffee or some other drink. It seems that somehow therapy and liquid refreshment go together. Why?

Many times I'll find an answer for questions like this, but I couldn't track down any research or theories about the function of self-hydration during psychotherapy. That makes me a pioneer in this emerging field of study. Here are a few brainstorm hypotheses, feel free to send in your own:

Why Do We Drink In Therapy?

Whistle-Wetting: It is talk therapy and some days we squeeze a lot of words into 50 minutes. Got to keep those vocal cords damp or we risk a blowout.

The Norm: Here in Southern California, if someone has a pulse, there's a good chance they have coffee, a smoothie or a Nalgene in their hand. Our thirst apparently knows no bounds, why should a therapy office be any exception?

Brain Power: A hydrated brain is a functional brain. Read an actual science blog on this here.

It's Informalizing: For some, coming to therapy brings to mind the cold, sterile office occupied by your M.D. or grade school principal. By bringing along a cafe latte or Fresca or Jamba Juice the setting transforms from clinical to casual.

Time Buyer: When posed with a big question that requires some thought, drinks come in very handy. Can I forgive myself you ask? Hmmm, now would be a good time to take a long, slow drink of my Italian soda, maybe dribble a little down my chin, look for the Kleenex, wipe it off, find the garbage and throw the tissue away. That burned 45 seconds right there. "I'm sorry, what was the question?"

Security Blanket: You may have heard that therapy can get pretty intense sometimes. It's true and whether people realize it or not, their words, their clothes, their body language and even their drink can form of shield or buffer against the intensity of the session (for better or worse). The couch is a vulnerable place, but armed with a water bottle maybe it's not so much.

Ritual: If you've brought your Yoo-Hoo to every session for six months, and you step on the elevator and realize you don't have it, you will have at least one thought about skipping the session. It can be as much a part of the therapy routine as where you park, what you do in the waiting room and where you sit on the couch.

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with bringing a drink. In fact, I've got water or a soda six inches from my right hand 90% of the time. For me, it's for treating a parched throat, giving a caffeine boost or hydrating after a between-session run. I want it there even if I don't think I'll need it. Should a thirst emergency arise I don't want to waste precious time and mental energy thinking about how thirsty I am.

Whatever the reason, I say keep the liquid flowing. It rarely gets in the way and if it makes a client a little more physically or emotionally comfortable, great. Some therapists (like the polarizing Paul from In Treatment) will even keep a pitcher and glasses right in the room. I keep a coaster on the end table and welcome clients to bring their own.

Today I'm working on being a joiner. This post was inspired by water, the topic for something called Blog Action Day. Among the thousands of other points we need to learn and actualize regarding water, here's one that might apply to the 59 million people in therapy: reusable bottles and mugs filled with tap water make a good refreshment in therapy, and save a lot of waste.

Even if therapy doesn't always make you feel good, you can always feel good about doing your part to save the planet!

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