Office Décor Matters: Seven Tips for Setting up a Space

No matter how you style (or don’t style!) your therapy office, your décor choices are an important part of creating a therapeutic space.

Office decor affects the way your clients feel and sends a message about you as a clinician. You don’t have to be an expert (or even hire one) to create a unique, inviting, and clinically-appropriate space. All your office needs is a little effort to ensure your space is welcoming for your clients.

Here are some of my favorite tips to help set up your office space:

1. All art says something about you

Anything you put on your office walls will say something about you. I talk to many therapists who say that they don’t want the art in their office to be “distracting,” and I wholeheartedly agree with them. There are plenty of intrusive art pieces that don’t belong in a therapy office (a lifelike nude, for example). However, hanging generic art might send the wrong message too. Your clients might think you lack personality and find it hard to connect with you because of it. It’s important to take time to choose art pieces that represent you in a way that is interesting and professional.

For budget conscious options, consider an online retailer like Minted or Society6. Both sell art prints and some of them are already framed. These retailers have many design styles too—just type in some of your favorite art styles in the search bar (abstract; landscape; graphic), and you’re bound to find an artistic representation that fits your taste.

Remember that art isn’t the only thing you can put on the wall. Think about using textiles like rugs, tapestries or woven wall hangings, or even shelves with books and decorative objects. Mirrors tend to be less expensive than art too, but be mindful about the placement of your mirrors because neither you nor your client should be able to see yourselves during the session.

2. Don’t hang your art too high

If you Google “how to hang art,” you’ll find page after page of designers lamenting about art hung too high. The “rule” is to hang art at eye level, which is rather confusing given that everyone’s eyes are at different levels!

The standard measurement is to center the work 57 inches from the floor. However, in a therapy office, both you and your client will most likely be sitting down, meaning that your eye levels will be lower. Low-hanging art is particularly on trend as well.

3.  Keep alive plants, and keep your plants alive

Plants are an inexpensive décor element that literally adds life to your space. Think about why people come to therapy: to thrive and live their best lives. Decorating your office space with fake plants or allowing your plants to die sends an implicit message about you.

Many plants are VERY low maintenance and nearly impossible to kill. And some don’t even need light to survive, so they work in an interior office. For example, snake plants are known for being incredibly resilient. You can leave them unattended for months and when you start taking care of them again they bounce back beautifully. A fascinating parallel for our work as clinicians.

4.   A clock for you, a clock for me

Strategically-placed clocks are helpful to both you and your client. You need at least two: one that you can see and one that your client can see. But be sure it’s not a ticking clock! That can be an unwelcome distraction during a session.

5.  Personal…but not too personal

Many therapists are concerned about decorating with items that are too personal. It’s a legitimate concern, especially when you want to keep the focus on your client. However, if your space is too impersonal, you might send a bad message to your client too. While there are different theoretical frameworks that inform how much a clinician should use of themselves in therapy, no matter what, your space should say something about you.

In my office, I keep woven baskets that my sister made, a photo taken by an artist friend whose work I admire, a lampshade from my mom, and a plant stand from my grandmother. None of my clients would ever know where these pieces came from, but the objects mean a great deal to me. I’m working on another collection of sculptural branches that my son picked up!

6.  Authentic décor does not mean expensive décor

I use plenty of pieces from big box stores (Target is a favorite for well-designed decor that looks a lot more expensive than it is), but I mix them in with handcrafted or natural elements. Some were completely free, like the branches.

Books also make great decorative accents, and you probably already have lots of them. The books you display give your client a glimpse into your training and the theoretical frameworks that inform your work. Remove the book jacket and you’ll often find elegant bindings that are perfect to display. I like to arrange them by color, stack three and place a decorative piece on top like a vase with a cutting from your yard or ceramic bowl.

7. Add soft elements

Pillows and throws add personality and dimension to a space. Many stores have inexpensive options, but be careful that the texture is not scratchy or rough as some clients will use your pillows to place on top of them or hold in their arms (which can be interesting to interpret). If you purchase a pillow case, buy an insert that’s two inches larger so that it stays plump.

I recently purchased two vintage textile pillows from Etsy. A therapist friend and fellow textile-phile shared with me that the artisans who create the textiles never throw anything away; they just keep patching and repairing. What a beautiful metaphor for therapy!

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