Exploring Psychology And Coworking: A Q&A With Stillpoint Spaces London’s Director, Dr Aaron Balick

Aaron Balick
Stillpoint Spaces is London’s first and only psychological coworking hub
  • Stillpoint Spaces is London’s first and only coworking hub designed for practitioners in the field of psychology.
  • It is also designed for non-therapists who are interested in working in a psychologically attuned coworking environment.
  • Allwork.Space caught up with Dr. Aaron Balick to hear more about the inspiration and vision for Stillpoint Spaces London.

Niche coworking is proving more popular than ever. From industry sectors and lifestyle choices to specialist designs, operators are differentiating their spaces to stand out from the crowd and meet the specific needs of their target market.

Stillpoint Spaces was established in 2012 through a series of popular ‘Psychoanalysis on the Streets’ events in bars and cafes on Zürich’s Langstrasse in the red light district. It opened its first bricks and mortar hub in Berlin’s edgy Neukölln district and now has locations in Paris and London, each providing a space for people from diverse backgrounds to connect, collaborate and reflect.

Stillpoint Spaces London is the city’s first and only psychological coworking hub designed for practitioners in the field as well as non-therapists who are interested in working in a psychologically attuned coworking environment. The first floor contains consulting rooms whilst the second features an open plan coworking area and events space called The Lab, as well as a psychology library/meeting room.

We caught up with Dr. Aaron Balick to find out more about the inspiration behind Stillpoint Spaces and its vision.

Allwork.Space: Aaron, tell us how you became involved in the Stillpoint Spaces project?

Aaron Balick: I have always had a passion for applying ideas from psychology to everyday life, and it was this desire that inspired me to write my book ‘The Psychodynamics of Social Networking; connected-up instantaneous culture and the self’. Shortly after that book was published, one of Stillpoint Spaces’ original founders asked me to do a webinar for their global online community on the subject of my book.

I loved the community and we quickly found that we shared the passionate vision of applying ideas from in depth psychology to everyday life. At the time Stillpoint Spaces International was developing an online counselling platform, and they asked me to facilitate a research project with their online counsellors to discover what we could learn from the emerging world of therapy online.

This was another demonstration of Stillpoint’s vision of bringing psychotherapy into the modern age, but doing so responsibly and asking the right questions. It seemed inevitable that the next logical step was for me to head up Stillpoint Spaces in its new home in London.

Coworking members collaborating at Stillpoint Spaces London.

Of course, though this step was logical it was in some ways totally irrational! I have spent my working life as lots of things: a shrink, a writer, an academic, and a public speaker – but not someone with the education or experience in the coworking or events field.

Needless to say, running Stillpoint Spaces has been quite a departure and a major learning curve for me – and I couldn’t do it without our fantastic team – so it’s been a real adventure.

How important is it for you to attract members outside of the field of psychology?

This is of primary importance for me and is totally aligned with my personal vision of applying psychology outside the clinic and Stillpoint’s tagline of exploring psychology, in depth, inside and outside the consulting room. As a career psychotherapist I have spent my working life either learning, teaching, or providing psychotherapy. I have directed masters programmes and run continued professional development communities.

While this has all been great, I began to feel that while psychology professionals were great at talking to each other, we weren’t so great at sharing all the amazing insights we get from our profession with the wider public in ways that were innovative, accessible, and fun.

“We also have activities geared especially for our membership which include reading and art groups, and our innovative Mindful Deep Work Writing Sessions.” – Dr Aaron Balick, Stillpoint Spaces London

While our therapy space on the first floor is devoted to clinicians who do the traditional work of psychotherapy, counselling and coaching, on the second floor “The Lab” is our public psychology space. It is here that we open our coworking space to “the psychologically curious” who wish to work in a psychologically intentional environment (without having to know a thing about psychology!).

We hold events for clinicians, but the majority of our events are for the wider public with an interest in psychology. We also have activities geared especially for our membership which include reading and art groups, and our innovative “Mindful Deep Work Writing Sessions” where we collect mobile phones, turn off our WiFi, and get people engaged in the creative headspace they’ve probably been avoiding to do busywork.

Among many other things, your full membership package includes access to an ‘international community’. Can you give us an example of how some of your members have collaborated internationally?

This is really our next big growth area. We already have the great resource of active Stillpoint Spaces communities in four European cities, and others dotted around the world who use our platform.

At the moment we are developing our international offer for clinicians by making it easier for them to share their interests with each other internationally, participate in clinical webinars, and support each other in their practices through what we call online “intervision”.

We have also recently installed the hardware to beam some of our events to our sites abroad so people can participate virtually as well as face to face.

The next step (and this is my dream project) is to develop a similar community for non-clinicians, “the psychologically curious” as an online international “Lab” like we do here at our bricks and mortar Lab in London.

One of the first things you’ll see is the development of a high quality international publication called “The Stillpoint” that uses psychology as a lens to look at important global issues. This will be launching in the spring – with special content and opportunities for engagement for our members.

London is just coming up to its second year anniversary, and Paris recently had its first – so we are still in our early days, so in many ways we are still consolidating our vision. Developing the international community of clinicians and non-clinicians is the next big development, so watch this space (on and offline!)

London’s coworking market is the largest in the world. With so much competition, what were some of the obstacles you had to overcome in your first year?

From the start we have had very little trouble licensing our consulting rooms to therapists. Mostly this is because our rooms are stunning (if I may say so myself) and purpose built for therapy (sound proofed, climate controlled, comfortable . . . ), so clinicians knew what they were getting and were familiar with the model.

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It has been harder to reach out to the psychologically curious to join us for coworking. Non-clinicians may not know what to expect, and surprisingly, a great deal of people are still intimidated by the idea of a “psychological space” – they fear they’re going to come and be unwillingly psychoanalyzed!

“We don’t have prosecco on tap, and though we look great, we’re not over-designed in an appeal to startups hoping to be unicorns’.”

However, through our events and social media presence, people are starting to get the measure of what we do. Also, since we’ve been reaching out to allied professions like executive coaches, social enterprises, and non-profits, people are beginning to understand what we do. We don’t see ourselves as competing with the big name coworking spaces out there.

We don’t have prosecco on tap, and though we look great, we’re not over-designed in an appeal to startups hoping to be ‘unicorns’. We see ourselves as an innovative and somewhat laid backspace that might appeal to folks who may not have even considered coworking before. This seems to be attracting people in the more creative industries, and we’re very happy to have them.

We recently wrote about the growing emphasis on wellbeing and designing for the human element, and how human-focused design can enhance the occupier experience. What is the concept behind Stillpoint Space London’s design and how does it facilitate ‘mindful working’?

We built Stillpoint Spaces London from an empty shell with the help of Christian Held at BUMP architects. We looked at a lot of spaces before setting on a design idea, and we were very clear that we wanted warm, contemporary, modern and welcoming – not too clinical.

A lot of thought went into our consulting rooms, which look more like a boutique hotel (in a good way) than a clinical setting. We wanted both our therapists and clients to feel comfortable and at home. They are spacious, comfortably designed (amazing feature wallpaper in each room), and homey.

“We encourage people to think creatively and introspect – all the semiotics of the place encourage thoughtful (and fun) engagement with work.”

Upstairs we went for bright colours, open plan, and lots and lots of books. It’s a help-yourself environment that encourages ownership of the space (no stuffy reception desk, our staff sit and work amongst our coworkers – including me). Coworkers help themselves to coffee, utilise our psychology library, and take phone calls in our discrete phone room.

The layout encourages informal and easy networking. We looked long and hard to ensure that each of our consulting rooms had a bright big window, and our Lab and Library are bathed with light.

I think we’re probably the only coworking space in the world with the collected works of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung available to our coworkers! We also have Play Doh, Lego and colouring books to help our members decompress.

Now the Freud and Jung may be, for many, strictly symbolic. But it’s an important symbol. It says that we take our heritage seriously. We encourage people to think creatively and introspect – all the semiotics of the place encourage thoughtful (and fun) engagement with work.

What can larger coworking operators do to improve and safeguard the wellbeing of their members?

The worst thing a workplace can do is to alienate the people working there, usually by making them feel like objects. Everybody who works hopes that their job can in some way be a positive expression of themselves in the world. Ideally, we don’t work just to make money – we work as an expression of our lives.

It’s much easier to respect the individual humanity of your coworkers in a smaller place (think of a small family run restaurant compared to a giant chain you find everywhere) – but there’s no reason that large spaces can’t also put the human being first. However small we are (or however large we might get) my aim is to never forget that people are at the centre of everything we do. This is more than some kind of a motto (it easily can become one) – it’s essential.

In every area of our lives it helps to remember that every person you meet is another human being, trying their best, and wanting to be fulfilled. How can we contribute to that should be the question any working environment should be asking themselves.

Stillpoint Spaces London will be celebrating its second anniversary in March – congrats! What will you be doing to mark the occasion?

We have already sold out our headlining event – psychotherapist Philippa Perry asking “Why are Other People so Awful” – which we think will be a very funny and illuminating talk. On the Saturday we will have our Open House where we will be having a return of our popular “Speed Dating Therapists” event.

Finding a therapist can be daunting, and we have found that making that first meeting easier (and free) can really give people the opportunity get a sense of what a therapy session might be like without committing the time and money to a full “official” session.

If you’re looking for a therapist, it’s a great way to meet a few in one go, and see who is the best match for you. Or, if you’re just curious about therapy, it’s a grand opportunity to see what happens beyond that closed door, with no obligation.

Concurrently, upstairs in The Lab we are having a series of short talks across the day covering everything from creativity and the arts to managing work stress and living in a multicultural society.

We will have folks onsite who you can talk to about our writing and reading groups, and the opportunity to just come and enjoy the space. There will be something for everyone – good coffee too. This event is free to the public, so you are very welcome.

And finally, what’s next on the agenda for Stillpoint Spaces?

After opening Paris last year our goal is to see how we can best grow and facilitate our international community. Up until now, our four sites have been relatively autonomous – but our memberships are hungry for more international cross-pollination and global community.

For this reason we are developing our international community for clinicians and non-clinicians alike – including (wait for it . . .) a kind of social network for the psychologically curious – sort of like an online Lab, if you will. So as I said previously, we’re in our early days, but we’re very excited about these new developments. Watch this space!


Connect with Stillpoint Spaces London on Twitter @Stillpoint_UK.

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