Research on decor and presentation of psychotherapists offices show that paint colour, furniture, lighting, cleanliness, presentation of degrees, artwork, and accessories such as throw pillows, blankets, and area rugs effect how clients perceive their therapist.
The research demonstrated that clients felt more comfortable and confident in their psychotherapist in an office setting that was:
- clutter free (no tangled wires, overflowing garbage, stacks of paperwork)
- optimally lit with light that was gentle and diffused (multiple lighting sources such as a window and lamps)
- displaying degrees and professional accreditations
- comforting through the use of throw pillows, blankets, area rugs, and soothing paint colours
Saul Robbins has an interesting (to me) gallery of psychotherapists chairs/offices from the perspective of their clients. Robbins asks his viewers in this gallery showing to question "the inherent personality in each of these environments" that's right — he wants you to think about the personality of the therapist that is being conveyed to the client from where they sit. I believe this a powerful question and could be rather revealing to therapists doing a bit of their own exploration into the implicit messages clients could receive in their relationships with the person they sit across from.
In step with Robbins artistic explorations, Eva Ritvo wrote "I’m wired to look at the space as an extension of the person. So naturally it’s important for me that my therapist and his/her office be in alignment." Ritvo goes on to share her experience of a psychotherapists office that she and her partner visited which they found to be an "eye-sore." Ritvo recommends that therapists take the time to sit in the seat of the client and see what they are seeing, to experience the space as a new client may experience it. I think Robbins would appreciate this approach.
Designing an office worked out really well for me and has created an office space that is private and comfortable. One problem though, the door. Unless you have an office that is equipped with a studio grade sound insulated door system (that's right, a system — likely more than one door is necessary here to keep things as soundproof as we would like) you might be able to hear some words being said in the office from the waiting room.
I did some informal testing and began to experiment with ways of not structurally altering my office, such as removing the current door to my office and installing a two door system or moving the waiting room — I came up with a simple solution that works.
That's right, a simple water fountain located in the waiting room creates enough gentle noise that it makes the words being said in the office muffled and unintelligible. I also experimented with music but found it too distracting and potentially unnerving for clients collecting their thoughts and preparing for a session. The idea of piping in electronic nature sounds or soothing muzak that you might hear at a yoga studio or massage therapy office also did not seem to suit me. Plus, now I have this really cool looking fountain that is in-step with my decor.
Always learning more,
Timothy Gordon, MSW, RSW