Working With Clients – Body Doubling

I discovered body doubling working with my client, Trudy. Trudy is a highly educated and successful professional. She is married with two children and is originally from Norway. In 2004, she approached me after my organizing presentation at an organizing supply store. She introduced herself and said, “I think you might be able to help me.” We briefly discussed her desire to get organized and set up an appointment for the following Saturday morning.

After the initial consultation and assessment, we scheduled our first session.  At our first session, Trudy instructed me to sit in the chair in her bedroom while she sorted through her clothes; if she had a question about whether or not to keep something, she would ask me to help her decide.

When I left her that day, I thought to myself, What the heck was that about? At the time, I was reading the book Conquering Chronic Disorganization by Judith Kolberg. Serendipity would have it that evening I read about what I was doing with Trudy that morning. It’s called body doubling.

“A body double is not an active assistant.

“A body double’s principal job is to occupy space while the client does organizing chores.

“A body double must be quiet and non-distracting.

“A body double cannot be judgmental.

“A body double must be patient and able to sit still for long periods of time.”

Body doubling is a highly effective method working with chronically disorganized clients and clients with ADHD who benefit from organizing as a social activity. They need someone with them more for the social aspect than the organizing work.  In the last few years, I worked with Trudy; we would start our sessions by walking with her dog to Starbucks and to “catch-up.” This often took an hour of our three hour session time.  The remaining two hours Trudy would organize, and I would body double keeping her focused on the task of organizing.

Laurene Livesey Park, ICD’s certification director, shared with me a similar story about one of her clients. Laurene said, “Body doubling was very effective. The client was not able to stay focused. We would sit in her office while she wrote her articles, and I would anchor her to the work. She called me regularly to say, ‘I need you to come and sit in the purple chair’ (the guest chair in her office). When the phone rang, I would say, ‘The machine will pick that up.’ When she needed a word looked up, I would do that. She stayed in her chair, on task and writing. We even did it remotely once, with me on speakerphone from my office at home, and her at her computer.”

Body doubling work can be accomplished virtually, although best by a video rather than a phone, so you can visually observe the client and keep her on track.

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