People Judge Quality of Therapist by Office Appearance

According to a new study, people judge the quality of their therapists by the appearance of their office. Jack Nasar, professor of city and regional planning at Ohio State University, and co-author of the study, said, “People seem to agree on what the office of a good therapist would look like and, especially, what it wouldn’t look like. Whether it is through cultural learning or something else, people think they can judge therapists just based on their environment.” The participants were asked to rate a therapist’s ability and their own comfort level based on a photograph of the therapist’s office.

The results showed that the participants felt more at ease in an office that was deemed neat and orderly, and was decorated with softer, more personal touches, such as pictures, diplomas, rugs and pillows. Additionally, the test subjects reported that the therapists who worked in these offices were most likely friendlier and more qualified to administer care. The participants were also asked what feeling came to mind when they viewed the photos, and if they would choose to see that particular therapist based on their office. “The top-rated offices also pointed to the importance of softness and order,” said Nasar. “For the top five offices, participants most frequently described the office as comfortable, nice, clean, warm and inviting.”

The participants believed the quality of care received from these therapists would be better than those with disorganized and cluttered offices. Regardless of these types of judgments, the researchers say that therapists should take this seriously. “These results suggest that someone visiting a therapist in a low-rated office for the first time may not want to come back,” said Nasar. He adds, “I would tell therapists to keep their offices soft and friendly looking. Put up your diplomas and personalize the office. Arrange everything in a neat and orderly way and keep it that way.”

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • melinda

    melinda

    June 14th, 2011 at 4:46 PM

    Oh yeah it is about so much more than the quality of the doctor. First impressions say a whole lot. I am an office manager at a large ob-gyn office and that was something that we hear from patients all of the time, how our decor makes them feel nice and comfortable. That means a lot to the patient and it means a lot to my doctors too to hear patients say that. You have to think about appearance and think about that when it comes to how you dress and how you dress the office. You may not think that those things should be important but for many people they are and this is something that you have to constantly stay on top of and be aware of.

  • J.Hopes

    J.Hopes

    June 14th, 2011 at 8:03 PM

    Well,it’s not just for therapist but this holds good for any professional or business establishment.If you want your clients or customers to come back to you then your first impression plays an important role.And your office is a big part of that first impression.

  • rene golden

    rene golden

    June 14th, 2011 at 10:18 PM

    A tidy desk equals a tidy mind. That’s what they say anyway and whether we believe it or not, our initial reaction to an unkempt office is that its resident must be disorganized and haphazard. Therapists should shoot for a balance between an uncluttered and welcoming vibe.

  • Tania Roth

    Tania Roth

    June 14th, 2011 at 11:05 PM

    I think therapists should also be careful when going for an uncluttered look not to go too far in that direction. If your office is too bare it looks harsh and sterile. Clients’ first impressions will attribute you with the same qualities. Try not to make it too clinical looking in your quest for minimalism.

    And lastly, make it light please! A dark paneled or painted room can feel very claustrophobic and foreboding.

  • ricardo mann

    ricardo mann

    June 15th, 2011 at 1:26 AM

    I want and expect a couch to stretch out on. Is that a false stereotypical view of a therapist’s office? I’m curious how many do or don’t have one.

    Looking like Freud is optional. Especially for the women. ;)

  • Maxwell Callan

    Maxwell Callan

    June 15th, 2011 at 1:40 AM

    Anyone would be judged by the state of their office, not just a therapist. If you walked into the office of a company you wanted to have a deal with, and it was a huge disorganized mess, you would be out the door in a flash. At least I would anyway.

  • gamecockfan96

    gamecockfan96

    June 15th, 2011 at 4:16 AM

    It is a sad but true part of life that there are many people who automatically judge a book by its cover. I want an office to be clean and the therapist to have showered but other than that if the place is decent and the counselor helps me then do you think that I really care who decorated the office or what designer the doctor is wearing? Give me a break. If this is how shallow we all choose to remain then I think that it is perfectly understandable to want to opt out of it all for a while. We are better than that, or at least we should strive to be better than that.

  • H.C

    H.C

    June 15th, 2011 at 8:39 AM

    It’s all about the show and asthetics nowadays isn’t it? Do you really think all those restaurants charge the exorbitant prices because their food’s so good? No. It’s because of the atmosphere, the presentation and stuff.

    I’m not saying we need messy offices for professionals but don’t give too much importance to that!

  • Cathy Richards

    Cathy Richards

    June 15th, 2011 at 5:31 PM

    It’s simple isnt it-if you cannot manage an office and keep it tidy then how am I to trust you with my problems? You may be good yes but a new client just can’t guage it in one visit.But what CAN make an impression in a single visit is the aesthetics and being tidy!

  • madison camarillo

    madison camarillo

    June 16th, 2011 at 12:50 AM

    My old therapist, for some odd reason, kept a human skeleton on display in his office. (I’m sure it’s plastic so don’t be alarmed!) He doesn’t even work with bones and yet he keeps it there in the corner like a silent sentinel. It’s not what you would call warm and welcoming.

    I like it but it must creep some other clients out I’m sure.

  • Iris

    Iris

    June 16th, 2011 at 4:36 AM

    Should therapists not care about their appearance and pass that along to their clients quite in the same manner that most of us do? I always want to put my best foot forward. They should want to do the same.

  • W.L.C.

    W.L.C.

    June 16th, 2011 at 6:31 PM

    My therapist has more books than Barnes & Noble in his office.

    Most of them are just for show I suspect. I’d be very surprised if he had managed to read them all. There’s a couple of lifetimes worth of reading material gracing his walls.

  • Iain Mallory

    Iain Mallory

    June 17th, 2011 at 11:48 PM

    It’s the content of the office that counts for me. If a doctor has a really drab office with nothing in it that I can look at to see what he’s talking about, then I’ll leave the room none the wiser. It’s not much to ask that he has an illustration of the brain on the wall I can refer to when he talks about my cerebellum.

    I like a point of reference I can visualize, you see. It helps me remember.

  • A. Hicks

    A. Hicks

    June 18th, 2011 at 4:02 AM

    All I have to say is that I like it to be organized. Nothing annoyed me more as a teenager than my therapist spending forever looking for a misplaced file instead of taking ten seconds to put it where it should be at the end of each session.

    Disorganized therapists are bad therapists who don’t care about their patients in my opinion. How can they if they don’t even care about their filing system??

    There’s a place for everything and everything in its place.

  • Evan Bruce

    Evan Bruce

    June 18th, 2011 at 9:09 PM

    One clinic I went to had several rooms and corridors with walls that were painted dark red. It looked absolutely awful and made the interior feel extremely claustrophobic as well.

    I hated it so much in there I started going across town to a different clinic. Whoever imagined that would look good made a very poor choice indeed.

  • T.R. Maxwell

    T.R. Maxwell

    June 19th, 2011 at 10:43 PM

    As long as the therapist knows their stuff, I could care less if they had Spongebob Squarepants curtains and a My Little Pony carpet in the office!

    So what if his or her taste differs from yours? All I look for in decor is their qualifications framed on the wall so I know they are legit. Judging them by their interior design tastes is shallow.

  • Michelle Ambalu, LCSW

    Michelle Ambalu, LCSW

    August 8th, 2012 at 8:24 PM

    Not only do I care about how my office speaks to people, but I care about how it speaks to them individually. A nice office is one factor that can help people feel comfortable initially with the new venture of therapy, but what is most important is that after they feel comfortable and decide to continue, we begin to explore the transference.

    In therapy, people project familiar experiences and roles onto their therapist (the room being an extension). While one client may be repulsed by a disorganized office, another may find this to be freeing especially if lets say they had a strict upbringing. Either way, that is really what is the importance in relation to an office: the exploration of the feelings it evokes.

    Furthermore, it is common for people to also feel a set of opposing feelings or to be attracted or drawn in by something we have learned to reject. For example, a client may think that all the colors and random objects in his therapist’s office are distasteful, while another part of him finds it fun, open, freeing, or exciting. Just like how a super-organized minimalist office might feel boring/overly restrictive AND safe/comforting simultaneously.

    One of the most important tasks as a therapist is to find that tension, that struggle, that duality, that resistance… because that is at the heart of trauma, love, passion, and often the unconscious.

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