The Self Space studio in Soho provides mental health maintenance on the high street (picture: Alice Giddings)
‘What’s this then? Is this therapy, like for the head?’ said a delivery driver as he stood in the doorway of Self Space, in the heart of London’s Soho.
After all, considering the notoriously long NHS mental health wait times, with nearly a quarter of patients waiting three months to start treatment and dialling 999 instead – it does seem unusual that you can simply stroll into a shop on the high street and get a session with a therapist, with almost no wait time at all.
But this is what’s advertised by the team at SELF SPACE – a trendy private therapy clinic on the high street which offers ‘mental health maintenance’.
You won’t be waiting years, months or weeks – they claim they can almost always see you the same day, and usually within the hour. How? They have access to more than 100 therapists, if there’s not a therapist available for a face-to-face chat, they’ll connect you with someone online if you can’t wait.
It was set up by Jodie Cariss and Chance Marshall who say they’re on a mission to ‘reduce stigma around seeking and receiving mental health support by providing accessible therapy’.
Now, I was pretty curious to see what so-called ‘mental health maintenance’ at the venue entailed – so I popped down to try it out for myself.
As someone who forewent the two year wait for the therapy I needed and was fortunate enough to go private instead, I wanted to see if it really was more accessible.
Self Space is warm and stylish venue, with cosy lit rooms that look like an Anthropologie or Oliver Bonas shop front – somewhere you’d rather like to be, rather the sterile grey offices of many traditional therapists.
When I visited, Chance told us about that DPD driver and how their exchange summed up everything the new venture is trying to achieve.
‘He said “I’ve been looking for this for my son for ages, we’re on a waiting list for the NHS”,’ the founder recalled.
‘He booked his son in for the very next day and he came in with him. It was such a beautiful moment, he felt so proud he’d managed to get his son immediate access to mental health care.’
Its clinicians specialise in everything from trauma to depression and neurodivergence, but what sets Self Space apart from other private therapy clinics – let’s call it what it is – is their Mindful Monday Check-In, which falls on the first Monday of every month.
A downside is that Mindful Mondays are online, not in person, but the sessions – which are all about breathing techniques to ground yourself, as well as journaling led by a therapist to boost introspectiveness and help ease you into a low-stress month – are all totally free.
The no-need-to-book policy also piqued my curiosity. Who is this aimed at? And how does drop-in therapy it practically work?
Passers by are encouraged to pop in if they’re not feeling their best – you don’t have to know why.
Just like we may go to the gym or for a long walk to keep ourselves fit and healthy, the idea is to drop into a Self Space session with a clinician of your choice to keep yourself feeling mentally well.
The venture is aimed at people who want to keep themselves mentally fit, though the founders say they have the ability to offer therapy for people with long-term diagnosed mental health struggles too.
If you’re in crisis or are suspected by a Self Space therapist to have an diagnosed mental health condition, founder Jodie explains you will be referred to your GP, although Self Space will ‘bridge the gap’ and care for you until it’s confirmed by your GP that you have been seen.
But, the main aim of this trendy clinic is to aid self-improvement and help you maintain a happy and healthy state of mind.
You could easily squeeze a 30 minute session in between your retail therapy.
One of the therapy rooms in Self Space (picture: Alice Giddings)
Self Space wasn’t the dreary place I feel I have to go to when I have my regular therapy. In this case, I found myself really wanting to be there – it’s pretty Instagrammable to be honest and on a more important note, I wasn’t made to feel like I didn’t know myself and the extent of my problems.
I felt like I was chatting with people who saw me as a friend over coffee, not a project they’re earning money from by attempting to fix me.
We chatted about the people or characters I relate to and why that might be, and we did a storyboard activity. I mapped a journey of a goal I’d like to achieve and while it seemed trivial at first, it really helped me focus on what I wanted.
While it was only a short taster session, I left with a clearer sense of purpose for the near future than I’d had before I went in – the session gave me clarity.
In my traditional therapy I sometimes find myself having to confront things I don’t feel ready to yet, but I didn’t have that problem at Self Space.
A typical format for a Self Space session begins with filling out your medical history and GP information, but then you’ll get the question: ‘What brings you here today?’
If you’ve got something specific you want to discuss, the session will focus purely on that, but if not, you’ll chat about anything from relationships, work and family to what your eating and how you’re feeling physically.
It’s maintaining your mental health, not scrutinising it. As Jodie says: ‘We think about therapy as a collaboration, not as someone who has all the answers – you are the expert on yourself.’
Since opening it’s doors in 2018, Self Space has welcomed 55,000 people through its doors in four sites; Manchester, Borough, Shoreditch and now, Soho.
But here’s the real catch. I would say Self Space is accessible in terms of wait times, and their concept is great, but the cost will price some out.
In fact, it costs more than my private therapist I already see. I pay £60 for an hour (although I admit this isn’t face-to-face) while an individual session at Self Space is £60 for 30 minutes and if you want a 50 minute session it’ll be £80.
These are the average prices for London, so Self Space isn’t cheaper per say, but it does offer student and NHS discounts which take the price down to £60 for 50 minutes.
If you can’t afford that there are in-person group sessions you can attend for things like addiction, relationships and grief, which are £20 to £25, and you’ll be in a group of 20.
I’d class this as a much more accessible option but, of course, not everyone is going to be comfortable with group therapy.
As a solution, Jodie claims Self Space will be introducing a Pay It Forward scheme in the future which will allow big companies like Google, Depop and Huel, that pay for bulk sessions for their employees to pay for an extra 100 sessions, for example, and donate them to the public.
This will allow a limited number of free therapy slots to become available – now that’s what I call fully accessible.
Jodie Cariss and Chance Marshall (picture: Self Space)
But, regardless of cost, what Self Space won’t do is provide sessions for those who are under the supervision of a primary care team.
Jodie says: ‘We don’t see people who have a primary mental health team which may mean that you’re schizophrenic or have a dissociative disorder.
‘If someone comes to Self Space and we don’t think they’re able to access therapy, and when I say access I mean engage with the therapeutic process because they aren’t doing well, we would refer them to their GP.’
In short, do I think it’s worth singing Self Space’s praises? Yes. It’s offering something different, and boy, is that needed. I couldn’t get on to my private therapist within the hour. And the Mindful Monday sessions which help ‘maintain’ your mental health by giving you a boost at the start of the month are free.
Sure, the rest costs money, but this is a business, after all.
Personally I do feel like Self Space somewhat de-stigmatises the idea of checking in on our mental health – after all, popping into their ‘store’ felt like just another stop along the way between my usually haunts of Zara and & Other Stories.
Co-founder Chance told Metro.co.uk: ‘We’re opposite the food market and there’s something about therapy being visible and on the high street that just normalises what it means to look after our mental health.
‘People who have been interested in it – whether they be delivery drivers, people who work on the market or people who are walking around – and have started to think of therapy in a way that isn’t just for when they’re feeling overwhelmed or unable to cope, but are interested try it out just to see what therapy is like, without being committed to a longer process.’
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