Paying Attention
Bill McDonald’s Website Newsletter
April 2016 - Volume 16, No. 4
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A Second Door

Since 1977, I’ve have three different office locations, my current one now for seven and a half years. And in each location my own office has a single door - through which folks enter, and then depart. Then another client or couple may enter from my waiting room, and at the end of their session, also depart. A simple and common pattern. Hardly noteworthy. I do it myself every day.

Years ago I heard of a therapist who had two doors in his office - one by which a client or patient entered, and a second by which they departed. The idea was that the person (or couple) would leave therapy for a different life rather than just return to the previous one. I never quite understood the logistics of it, but the theory continued to intrigue me.

Every once in awhile, and this has happened over many years, a well-established client will walk into my office, look around and say to me “that’s new, isn’t it!” - while drawing my attention to an object or photograph that has been there for years.[1] Frequently this will happen during a “dry period” a time when I don’t see the person making much progress. I have an immediate sense of what has just happened - this person is developing new eyesight. And if the circumstances seem right, I’ll interpret that to them.

One of my metaphors for the changes one makes in therapy is that a person “develops new eyesight.” This is a deep change - often out of awareness, even out of my awareness. One biblical phrase that will catch my attention is “and the scales fell from their eyes.” I do feel at such times “on holy ground.”

Now let me pull these themes together. Within recent months I may casually mention to clients that my office has a second door - gesturing to the corner opposite the door they entered. I’ll say something like this:

“You’ll notice that this office has one door. You came in through it, and at the end of our session you’ll go back out through it. It’s so obvious there’s really no need to mention it. But every once in awhile some folks begin to see there’s another door; it’s in that opposite corner. You may never actually see it, but it’s there. And there’s a reason I mention it to you. You come in the first door from the world where you live. This room is not really a part of that world you came from. It’s kinda separate from that outside world - and that’s on purpose - so it can be more powerful to help you with the reasons you came here in the first place. So doesn’t it make sense that when you leave this room, you find yourself leaving to a slightly different world. Or maybe a very different world. You came in here from one world, you go out from here into a different world. Through a different door. I can’t really explain it to you, that’s just the way it is.”

And to my amazement, I also began to see something that had been there for many years, but I only now really notice.   

My office has two specific photographs on two walls - the walls that converge into the corner of that second door. 

Each has a theme of something hidden from our eyes. Each has long attracted me as psychologically significant. Each came as a special gift to me, yet each giver had already known of my attraction. And each carries the story of a special relationship in my past.  

But only recently have I begun to see how each specifically guides my sight to, and then beyond, that second door.   

I do most of my work with people in the space between the two doors. In many ways folks will return to their world with new and richer gifts to share with their people. Yet there are some or perhaps many ways where folks cannot return to their former world. They have to move on. 

Life hungers to move on. It’s often said of life, if it stands still, it will die. Nor can people stay in the middle with me forever. It’s not mine to dictate, or even know, what’s beyond especially that second door. 

But it seems I’ve always trusted it. Even now as it becomes clearer to myself. For we are each bidden to  

Pay attention


[1] It’s by intention that I rarely make changes in the decor of my office.

Comments (3)

  • More Than One Path

    Dear Bill,
    This use of two doors is significant for individuals. This may also be a useful tool for a community needing help finding compatible paths for the diverse needs of residents and owners. The two door theory intrigues me and I will work to adapt it to our community.

    I live in a large condominium community with 29 buildings and 264 residents with diverse backgrounds and needs. Since it’s development 15 years ago the community has been growing into a well educated and active population. This was the original plan for this community that is located in one of the most desirable areas in the county. Many of the residents are retired professionals and their condominiums are a second home away from the colder regions of the USA. There is also a significant number of investors who own and want their property values to remain constant.
    However, some of the residents and owners try to adapt the exact comforts and styles they are accustomed to from their summer homes to their condominiums which are guided by strict CC&R’s, Rules & Regulations and Design Guidelines.

    Education is a key component in this equation as well as refining the community documents and offering more than one Path or Door.

    Thank you for the insight and new concept.

    — Dawn, 4/4/2016
  • Two Doors

    I really enjoyed this newsletter, Bill. It is certainly true for clients as well as we therapists.

    — JANET WILES, 4/4/2016
  • doors

    I always thought the two doors was because during therapy people often cry and don’t want to run into anyone in the waiting room after; also, if you’re in a smaller community and the doc has a full patient schedule, you really don’t want to run into your neighbor or someone you know in the waiting room. So the two doors was for the privacy of the patient to be able to exit a bit more clandestinely! And I can tell you as a patient of doctors, dentists, orthodontists...I hate it that they hardly every change their decor. You have to look at that same stupid painting on the ceiling every time you go to the dentist...uckkkk! Please change things around. It’s too easy to get fixated on the weird things in someone else’s office..I never look at ‘sameness’ as comforting. I love to mix it up and freshen it up.

    — Mak, 4/4/2016

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Bill McDonald
Fenton, Michigan

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