Designing Therapy Spaces: A Series to Enlighten and Delight

You’ve finally snagged a great new office space and you’re ready to move in but your momentum hits a roadblock. There isn’t much research on what constitutes healing spaces and as you now realize, there is little training in the halls of higher education for aspiring therapists and healers entering the field of healthcare. So it should come as no surprise that designing physical environments where therapy is conducted is often left to chance. The frightening news is that the few studies that have been done find that the competence and character of a healthcare giver are often judged based on the physical office spaces they occupy! People actually had opinions about qualifications based on pictures of offices!!! So the good news is we’re a shallow society that will always need therapy (I jest). But based on this, it appears to be vitally important for those in the health care profession to take heed – your income and the success of your business seem to depend on how well you appoint your office space.

In this age of pinterest and instagram, of course there are pictures everywhere on the internet with ideas of how a therapy office should look. After looking at many of these online examples however, I saw very few that support the my findings of environments people feel most at ease in, primarily because a decent picture requires bright light, the opposite illumination that  clients prefer when dealing with sensitive interpersonal issues.

Apparently your clientele is basing their initial perception of your work, first impressions of course, on the formality of your space and diplomas posted on your walls – this is extremely important. Your professional space should also support and empower you, the service provider, thankfully. Framing up those hard-earned documents isn’t difficult but formality is a bit different from comfort.

Neat and orderly are at the top of prospective client’s list and as I overlay my Feng Shui information, it appears that we begin finding patterns common to our culture. However, it’s interesting to note that much of this research has been conducted cross culturally with similar findings. You would think that clutter needn’t be mentioned when discussing a work space that invites clients inside but apparently that isn’t the case. If you are one that has less than tidy paperwork habits, I suggest another space to spread out or a desk that can be closed off behind doors. This rates a giant ‘no confidence’ for clients and will likely lose you business. So comfort is defined as orderly, warm, nurturing yet formal.

This being the first installment of the series, we’re looking at the larger picture. On the macro level, the space should reflect the intent of the practitioner and facilitate and encourage open communication. A reflection of your values as a practitioner should be apparent in the space and will demonstrate outwardly your philosophy of caring for your clients. Since therapists have different specialties, decor will differ but be mindful of your clients before diving in. The space – the room itself, the building, and even the approach to the building should allow for client privacy. Of course the offices should be welcoming,  and feel safe for your clients. As these design decisions are very subtle in determining outcomes, mutual goals are paramount as is getting feedback and opinions from others.

The Feng Shui of the seating is an interesting dilemma – the power position faces the exit however that is also a safety concern for many so ideally both patient and therapist have the door in their sight line whenever possible. Being able to move the seating (non-fixed) is also a great advantage and every piece of seating needs to be supportive and comfortable. This brings me to one particularly disturbing picture on the internet where there was a ledge just behind the back of the couch at head level. Any situation where there may be the possibility or perception of something falling on the head  such as bookcases, shelving, heavy wall-hangings, should be avoided.

Next time, we’ll discuss decor but be aware we are striving for a gender neutral color scheme and interestingly, a leaning toward the slightly more masculine for adult clients based on a photographic project I perused where therapy offices were photographed and reviewed. By the end of the series,  we’ll also have discussed color theory, lighting, stimulation levels, and seasonal flair and try to pull it all together in the end. Till next time then…

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