It’s More Than the Couch: Decorating a Therapeutic Office

Therapist sits on couch across from person in therapy, smiling and talking.First impressions can be crucial. None may be so important as the one your office conveys to someone beginning therapy.

People take nonverbal cues from their environment. The moment someone enters a room, they are receiving messages that can influence their actions and emotions. Some studies refer to how people perceive their environment as “non-conscious.” They may be aware of their surroundings but not realize how their surroundings affect how they feel or behave.

Depending on their practice, a therapist may want to create a space that connotes openness and healing. Others may wish to convey more structure and security. Either way, research indicates that decor should promote the right level of arousal. It should not over- or understimulate.

You may be opening your first office or moving into a new space. Regardless, how you decorate and arrange your office could influence the therapeutic relationship before anyone begins speaking. Keeping these tips in mind when you decorate your office may help maximize your productivity and enhance the benefits of therapy for the people in your sessions.

Empty office with wood floor, windows, brick walls, and vases.Choosing an Office

Think about the effects of shape and size when selecting your office space. Does it have many small nooks, or is it open with less barriers? Sitting in a confined space can feel safe for some but bring on feelings of claustrophobia for others.

Studies have found that an open space and high ceilings may be more conducive to emotional exploration. But too large of a room can negatively impact how people interact. This could actively discourage people from opening up during a session. In addition, a small office with big windows that look out over a beautiful view will have a much different effect than a larger office with fewer windows. Natural light has been proven to promote overall health and well-being. 

Color is often integral to striking the right tone for an office. One recent study found that a blue-teal combination was most comforting to people. Another study found that color can help bring out introversion and extroversion. Consider the color of the walls and what color may invoke in tandem with the structure of the space. Dark colors may feel suffocating, while neon colors may be overwhelming. Warm colors may stimulate and invigorate, while cool colors can invoke relaxation and subtlety. Cool colors may also inspire fatigue or sadness. Balance is key! If you cannot paint your walls, color can be incorporated through other means. Rugs, art, furniture, and other decor may help adjust the mood.

One orange and one green chair, sitting next to each other.Furniture

The placement of furniture can also impact how people feel when entering your space. It can help to test a few different configurations to see what flows best before inviting anyone in. You might also read up on the art of feng shui, where open air and light with minimal clutter on surfaces are key to a healthy environment.

Depending on the type of therapy you practice, seating arrangements can be a critical element of your office. Consider how much vulnerability you’re asking of those who attend your sessions. This could influence how you position your chair and the chair or couch where the person you’re working with will sit. Most therapists find it beneficial to have seats that face each other directly. Positioning the chairs so the person in therapy can see the door may increase their feelings of safety and security.

As you choose furniture for your office, ask yourself what the style of each piece communicates. You may decide to go with clean lines and wood finishes that feel simple and unobtrusive. It can help to aim for a look that is professional without being cold. This might mean avoiding glass table tops and steel.

A bookcase can also be a helpful asset. Bookshelves can remind people they are meeting with an experienced professional, which may also increase feelings of security. As an added benefit, it can display resources you may wish to draw from or share in-session.

A variety of potted succulents in natural light.Plants

Studies show that indoor plants can make people feel relaxed and comfortable. It may be worthwhile to bring a few leafy friends into your office. There is no need to stress if you are notorious for killing plants—some can withstand even the most forgetful growers.

Succulents, for example, are very easy to care for and require minimal attention. Their geometric patterns and interesting shapes may offer something calming for people to focus on as they enter an office. Some varieties of cactus are also easy to care for. They can invoke the same serenity associated with peaceful desert vistas.

A grid of multicolor squaresArtwork

Choosing artwork for your office can be an enjoyable part of the decoration process. But make sure to choose prints and photographs mindfully. Consider what each work evokes, including possible interpretations it might have. It may be helpful to avoid pieces with distinct narratives or those that feature people too clearly. Abstract art may be the most soothing and least distracting as a wall placement. Art featuring peaceful landscapes can also lend comfort to a therapeutic environment.

Therapists who practice reminiscence therapy could have other factors to consider. Reminiscence therapy may require people to recall memories from the past. It often incorporates props from that person’s past. A reminiscence therapist may collect art or decor from different decades to use for this purpose.

Silver and black fish swim in aquarium.Animals

It is not necessary to practice animal-assisted therapy to incorporate some of the benefits of animal interaction into your practice. A fish tank, for example, can create soothing white noise and give people something relaxing to watch during your session. Some research has shown that watching fish can reduce heart rate and improve a person’s mood. Consider whether adding a small fish tank will facilitate the type of therapy you practice.

Creating a tranquil environment within a therapy practice can benefit everyone. People coming to therapy may feel at ease and ready to do the emotional work of their session when they feel the space is safe and inviting. Therapists may enjoy day-to-day work in an office they have decorated with a specific goal in mind. Even if you find yourself in a small space or dark office, it is possible to make adjustments that can uplift you and the people with whom you work.

References:

  1. Boubekri, M., Cheung, I. N., Reid, K. J., Wang, C., & Zee, P. C. (2014, June 15.). Impact of windows and daylight exposure on overall health and sleep quality of office workers: A case-control pilot study. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 6(10), 603-611. doi: 10.5664/jcsm.3780
  2. Bradshaw, J. (2015, June 1). The psychology of space, part 1. Retrieved from http://magazine.iavm.org/article/the-psychology-of-space-part-1
  3. Chen, H., Ji, J., Liu, W., Ye, C. (2014, March 4). Optimal color design of psychological counseling room by design of experiments and response surface methodology. PLoS ONE, 9(3), doi: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0090646
  4. DeAngelis, T. (2017, March). Healing by design. American Psychological Association, 3(48), 56. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2017/03/healing-design.aspx
  5. Gale, J. (2014, September 22). Creative spaces: Inside 25 counseling & psychotherapy rooms. Retrieved from http://jodiegale.com/creative-spaces-inside-25-counselling-psychotherapy-rooms
  6. Lee, M., Lee, J., Park, B., Miyazaki, Y. (2015, April 28). Interaction with indoor plants may reduce psychological and physiological stress by suppressing autonomic nervous system activity in young adults: A randomized crossover study. Journal of Physiological Anthropology, 34(21). doi: 10.1186/s40101-015-0060-8
  7. Smith, R. (2014, June 16). How to build a thriving therapy practice: Office space. Retrieved from https://rhettsmith.com/2014/06/how-to-build-a-thriving-therapy-practice-office-space
  8. Todd, Z. (2015, August 19). The beneficial effects of watching fish. Companion Animal Psychology. Retrieved from https://www.companionanimalpsychology.com/2015/08/the-beneficial-effects-of-watching-fish.html

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  • Max

    Max

    August 16th, 2018 at 3:35 AM

    Thank you for sharing such wonderful thoughts. We always think about decorating our space, might be it is our living room, bed room, office or our own space. But, as a therapist you should also think about decorating the space where we practice. This idea will help the therapist to decorate their office and help the patient to be relaxed and cherished.

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