How to Design Your Waiting Room & Therapy Office

October 26, 2017
DFI Blog - Clues to Making Your Office Work for You and Your Clients

How to Design Your Waiting Room & Therapy Office

No one prepared most Clinicians for the rigors of private practice. There surely were no classes discussing chairs, love seats, couches, art, plants and lighting, waiting room music, magazines, sound proofing and lighting. That’s what I, in all humbleness, want to offer in this post. These are my views after 50 years of being a therapist and sometime client. I did visit Freud’s office in Vienna and while I loved seeing it I disliked it to my very core…see photo.

Designing the Waiting Room

First, a waiting room should be inviting and give a good first impression. Make sure it is really sound proof. If clients can hear what’s going on in another office, how secure can they feel about confidentiality? Magazines should be kept current. Music helps if it’s chosen wisely and softly. Radio is not preferred.

A children’s reading area is helpful and keeping the books clean and replacing torn or defaced books is necessary. Keep adding new children’s books.

Lighting should be moderate. Dim lighting is depressing for most people and too bright lighting is not relaxing. Some reasonable art is useful but don’t make it an expense. Comfortable chairs and maybe one love seat are my recommendations. Chairs allow clients to choose more than a sofa or loveseat, but one works for those who want closeness in the waiting room.

Paperwork can be in the waiting room or you can send it out via email. I prefer to have clients fill it out once they show up. That way I can answer any questions and calm any concerns that the emailed form may produce.

Designing the Therapy Room

Plants, live ones, show you can be a person that keeps things alive. Dead, dying and plastic plants don’t reflect well on you. Your artwork should not be too personal, but don’t be afraid of letting your clients know who you are and what you enjoy.

I prefer chairs rather than loveseats and sofas. I want to be able to move people around easily. I like having my own chair that is different from the client chairs. It’s a boundary thing.

An orderly desk, bookshelves, handouts, and my card are always present. I like a refrigerator in the room and offer water to any client once. After that, I tell them it’s OK to grab a bottle of water when they want to. I am surprised how many bring their own water anyway.

The lighting in the room should reflect the same ambiance as the waiting room. Low lights are depressing and bright are too harsh. Natural light supplemented by moderate indoor lighting sets the tone.

Sound proofing is a big deal and should be paid attention to as much or more than anything. I want my clients to raise voices, cry, and laugh without being self-conscious or restrained. Most importantly I don’t want them to hear other clients or therapists if we have a moment of silence.

My first office was a good coat of neutral colored paint, a bunch of plants, a handful of directors’ chairs and a few framed posters. I must have spent $400 (in today’s dollars) on decorating my office. I loved it and so did my clients. You don’t always need to spend a lot to make your clients feel safe and relaxed when they visit.

Article by Steve Litt, LCSW

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