Whether you have had your own office for a while, or are moving into a new space, you need to know how to make your office therapeutically helpful to your clients. Below, you’ll find my top 10 tips for creating the perfect therapist’s office. Follow these tips (and my Pinterest board!) and you’ll have an office that clients love walking into.
When I first started working as an intern after graduate school, I worked in a terrible office. If clients weren’t already depressed, they certainly were after walking into the waiting room. It was dark, dingy, and falling apart, and conveyed a message to clients that 1) they weren’t very important, and 2) we weren’t very professional. The fact is, when a client walks into your office for the first time, your office sends a huge message about you and the experience you’re offering. Sometimes, it can be a deciding factor in whether or not a client will come back to see you a second time. Don’t have an office that is anything other than professional, up-to-date, and comforting to your clients, and if you’re not sure how to do that, use my tips below.
1) NEVER, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, USE FLUORESCENT LIGHTING.
Research has shown that in therapist’s offices, “dim lighting yields more pleasant and relaxed feelings, more favorable impressions of the interviewer, and more self-disclosure than bright lighting.” Fluorescent lighting isn’t comforting in the least, and has the feel of a doctor’s office or commercial space. Large windows are always a great choice for an office space – with curtains to adjust the brightness and provide privacy if needed – but even an office without any natural lighting can feel cozy with the right lamps. The right lighting will make your sessions more productive and therapeutic for clients, so just leave the fluorescents lights off.
2) CHOOSE SEATING THAT IS COMFORTABLE, PLENTIFUL, AND APPROPRIATELY SCALED.
Your seating needs to fit your space, and be comfortable for both you and your clients. I once bought a beautiful, modern, leather club chair, and quickly realized that it wasn’t a comfortable chair to sit in more than a couple of hours. Choose furniture that you and clients can sit in for a long period of time without feeling uncomfortable. If you’re working with couples or families, make sure you have seating that allows for more than two people without feeling cramped. Also make sure to buy furniture that fits your space. If you have a small office, buy smaller-scale furniture (modern styles usually do well here) that helps your office to look spacious. If you have a large space, create “zones” for seating that feel cozy and not too distant from each other.
3) DON’T USE DECOR THAT LOOKS OUTDATED OR WORN DOWN.
How would you feel if, right before having a major operation, you were wheeled into the operating room and saw duct tape on the corner of the operating table, or a medical chart on the wall dated 1982? I imagine it might make you feel a little hesitant to put your trust in the doctor, staff, or hospital, right? If your office looks dated or worn down, YOU look dated or worn down. No clients want to go to a therapist who looks as though they might not be updated on current best practices, or who doesn’t seem to take care of their space. Investing in a new sofa, or chairs for your waiting room, is an investment in your clients and in your practice. It conveys the message that you take care of your environment, and so you’ll take care of your clients as well.
4) BRING IN GREENERY AND CANDLES IF POSSIBLE.
Every therapist’s office needs an element of life. Plants, candles with flickering flames, water features, etc., add movement and life to your space. These things help bland and boring offices to feel more inviting and alive. They add color even in the most neutral of spaces. Don’t have a green thumb, but need some greenery in your office? It’s totally fine to get fakes! Just make sure they’re GOOD fakes with lots of color. I have a fake orchid in my office that I get compliments on all.the.time. I’m often asked how I get it to bloom so well! The key is to find elements that help bring in texture, warmth, life, and movement, so that your office feels like a friend’s cozy living room.
5) KEEP YOUR OFFICE CLEAN AND UNCLUTTERED.
When a client walks into a therapist’s office looking for answers, hope, stability, or advice, what does that therapist project to their client if their desk is covered in papers, or there are stacks of books, magazines, files, etc., all over the room? Clients want to go to a therapist who looks like they have their “stuff” together. Keep your office space clean and free of clutter to offer your clients a more relaxing space, and show clients that you value the work you do.
6) NEVER SIT BEHIND A DESK FOR THE SESSION.
I once worked within a group where more than one of the therapists conducted their sessions while sitting behind a desk, with clients sitting across from them in small, waiting-room type chairs. This type of set-up creates an uneven power dynamic between client and therapist, with the therapist being positioned as more of an “expert” who is “in charge” of the session. Having a desk in front of you literally creates a barrier between you and your client that can easily affect rapport. It’s fine to have a desk. It’s even fine to sit behind it to schedule appointments, bill for services, and write notes. But DO NOT sit behind a desk when talking to clients about sensitive, emotional issues.
7) MONITOR THE ACOUSTICS, AND ADJUST ACCORDINGLY.
Can you hear what people are saying in the offices/room next to you? That’s a problem. Confidentiality is the cornerstone of what we do, so take steps to protect the confidentiality of your clients. Use a white noise machine, turn on a fan with a low hum, or have a water feature in your waiting room or office. Do anything that creates some background noise and prevents others from hearing what is being discussed. You also don’t want a room with an echo of any kind, so bring in curtains, rugs, and upholstered items that will absorb sound.
8) OFFER REFRESHMENTS.
You want your clients to feel like they are treating themselves to something wonderful when they come to your offer. You want what you do to feel valuable and exclusive. Offer refreshments to your clients – something besides water – to make your office stand out from the rest. Joe Sanok of Practiceofthepractice.com wrote a great post about setting up a drink station and how this helped grow his practice. In my office, I offer coffee, tea, water, and canned sodas like Fresca to my clients.
9) THINK “LIVING ROOM,” NOT “DOCTOR’S OFFICE.”
Combat the stigma of therapy as being only for “sick people” by avoiding the feel of a doctor’s office. We don’t want clients to come to our office only when they are in crisis. We also want clients to come when they’re feeling pretty good so that we can do some work together while they’re in an energetic, motivated, and optimistic place in their lives. Cozy furniture, rugs, pillows, tissue boxes, candles, plants, curtains, and artwork help you to create the feel of a home – a safe, trusted place to explore thoughts, feelings, and behavior.
10) MAKE YOUR OFFICE A REFLECTION OF YOU.
Do you work with kids? Love the color blue? Have a huge garden at home? Then bring these parts of you into your space! Create a children’s corner with a small table, children’s toys, and art supplies (neatly arranged, mind you). Paint the walls a soothing blue or buy a beautiful blue rug. Bring in plants to filter the air and add life to your space, or choose artwork that reminds you of your flowers at home. If you aren’t design-savvy, I will tell you what improvements you should make, and then put you in touch with an interior designer who can help you pick out specific items. Your office shouldn’t just be a place where you work, it should be a place where you actually like spending time.
DO YOU NEED SOME HELP WITH YOUR OFFICE OR PRACTICE AND AREN’T SURE WHERE TO BEGIN? I can help.
Do you have anything to add to this list? Did anything surprise you? Leave a comment below and tell me what you like or don’t like in a therapist’s office.