Established in 2002, The Therapy Lounge is a multifaceted, holistic therapy centre based in Fleet, Hampshire. It is most well known as a provider of mental health psychotherapy
and for working with teenagers, but it also offers massage for injury and relaxation, osteopathy, acupuncture, reiki meditation, hypnotherapy, yoga, Pilates and beauty therapy.
Kareena Gates-Bennet founded The Therapy Lounge to create an environment that was both professional and comfortable, but non-clinical. Having practised as a therapist for several years, always working on a one-to-one basis, setting up in central Fleet gave me more space to also work in groups. When starting out, refitting the offices to suit my vision was my key priority. Ensuring the furnishings and aesthetics are suitable is a crucial aspect of curating a welcoming and comfortable environment, and it is in this aspect where therapy centres often fall short. If a patient is to open up and be truly receptive to treatment, they need to feel at home and settled. Ours is a calming environment that is non-clinical and that allows patients to feel valued as individuals. I soon realised we needed to provide a broader variety of services than the few we had started out with, so we began to expand what we offered quite quickly.
Creating a positive working culture
Employment law is rather daunting for a small business and it seemed more straightforward for all of our practitioners to be self-employed. I was worried that this would stop us being unified as a group, and so we have always ensured that we operate as a highly coherent team and share patients willingly. At the same time, the flexibility of each worker being self-employed allows us to work flexibly around our families. Some staff prefer to begin earlier in the day and some later, meaning that we can offer appointment times during a longer window. Each practitioner runs their own diary but is still subject to central organisation. To ensure that we continue to listen carefully to our patients’ requests, collecting and reflecting upon feedback. All staff meet regularly and discuss the present and future and always consider how we can add new treatments where there is demand. For me, this process highlighted how my own continuing personal development could be expanded, thus benefiting my patients. I saw the advantage in eveloping my skill set beyond the usual short CPD courses, so I studied for a master’s in cognitive behavioural therapy and a BSc in hypnotherapy. Looking to the future, I have considered forming a limited company and employing my own staff, and while the current system has worked well up until this point and affords us benefits, our continuing success means we have to consider changing our structure. The current political uncertainty, however, has influenced my decision to remain cautious and wait until external factors become clearer. We have been running at capacity for two years in terms of patients/clients and next year we will concentrate on our plans to open a second centre in Farnham. We want to ensure that everyone who wants to be seen can be, but unfortunately this again will be dependent on external factors.
My background helps when working with teenagers, having experienced a similar process myself. I understand how easy it can be to feel trapped by one’s environment, but through our sessions we can guide young people in letting go of their baggage and helping them grow into adults who are free to make the right choices. Also explain the brains development
into the adult brain and this only makes teenage life more difficult. We emphasise that they are not alone in struggling with this transition. We help them see that their feelings are normal, although they may feel different. Cognitive behavioural therapy, in particular, can be of immense value to this group of people. It allows the patient to deal with the issues facing them in the present, before using the skills they develop to cope on their own as they progress. We recently worked with a young man with a drug issue, which was affecting his ability to find work. With our assistance he was quickly able to find the strength to problem solve rather than use drugs to escape. He’s just signed up to do a foundation year in order to build a portfolio, with an apprenticeship to become a tattoo artist when he turns 18. The tangible impact of our work means that we haven’t had to advertise in seven years and have grown purely through word of mouth. As a team we have between 185 and 220 visitors each week and a number of repeat clients, who will often use more than one service. Our wide range of services means that we can recommend other sessions to existing clients, that may either suit them or someone they know. This only works because they are happy with the service we deliver, and it is testament to our staff that people continue to return.
Receiving the right therapy in good time has become an issue for a number of people in the UK, and waiting lists on the NHS are simply too long. Anxiety and depression are overwhelming emotions and people cannot be expected to wait for three months to receive help. We can offer urgent care and, although the funding from the NHS is insufficient, we have been able to help many people in need who cannot wait. To enhance our impact, we have begun to work with local schools and surgeries, and have built strong relationships in
the process, while also offering special rates for vulnerable patients. For any small business, finances are a challenge, and rising business rates in particular prevent many small businesses from growing. Luckily, our council have reduced them for the last three years, and through prudent financial planning I have been able to repay any loans used to invest in the business within the repayment period. Our goal is to use greater funding to invest in mental health communication and end the stigma that unfortunately still surrounds it. Education in schools needs to be better and awareness needs to increase, but through future partnerships, we are confident that we can make an impact.