No matter how you style (or don’t style!) your therapy office, your décor choices are an important part of creating a therapeutic space.
They affect the way your clients feel and send 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 TLC from you!
Here are some of my favorite tips to help set up your office space:
1. All art says something about you
I talk to many therapists who say that they don’t want the art in their office to be “distracting.” To be fair, there are plenty of pieces that don’t belong in a therapy office (a lifelike nude, for example). But anything you put on the wall will say something about you. Hanging generic art might send the wrong message (“My therapist seems so…basic!”). It’s important to take time to choose some art that represents 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; some of them already framed. They have many design styles—just type in some of your favorite things 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. Just be careful about placement…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, typically both you and your client will be sitting down, meaning that eye level will be lower. Low-hanging art is particularly on trend.
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 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. 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 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 when you want to keep the focus on your client. While there are different theoretical frameworks that inform how much a clinician should use of him or herself in therapy, no matter what, your space says something about you.
If your space is impersonal, that’s a message too. 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!