First impressions count. We all know this is true from our personal experiences and our professional abilities. So why, then, would you ever consider limiting a client’s impression by showing a distinct point of view in your office?

When I ask that question to new therapists, I usually get this response.

“I want the client to get a sense of who I am.”  Fair enough. But allow the client to organically get to know you instead of promoting a particular point of view in your waiting room. It might not be the impression you were hoping for.

 

Here’s an example. A wonderfully competent and expert therapist in PTSD asked for a consult. Her numbers were dwindling and she had no idea why. Neither did I until I visited the office. Here’s what I saw: Shabby furniture, a large collection of unicorns, a stack of politically charged magazines, and dim lighting. When I entered her treatment room, it was cluttered with professional journals, a collection of rainbows and a couch that had seen better days.

 

The office conveyed a sense of disorganization and carelessness. The unicorns and rainbows, while whimsical, did not display seriousness. The magazines let me know a political point of view — which I might not share — that, as a potential client, may alienate me from the beginning. The clutter was not conducive to a calm arena to talk about anxious issues and the furniture telegraphed scarcity.

 

Here then are six easy steps to create a soothing and professional office.

 

  1. Steal from the greats: Look at any upscale furniture website. The rooms are staged in glossy photos–and you will see a trend–neutral colors, spare decorative items and soothing lighting. Better yet, visit Houzz.com — they are chock full of office ideas from couches to credenzas.
  2. Get an opinion. Or three. Ask your most stylish friend or the colleague with the best office to render a brutal opinion. It took three colleagues to convince me that red could be a neutral color for my couch in a beige world.
  3. Visit Craigslist, your local Goodwill store, or nextdoor.com. We live in a transient world these days and the Pottery Barn couch that doesn’t fit in the new apartment will look lovely in your waiting room.
  4. Less is more. Really. Lose the tchotchkes, the journals, the stuffed animals, and your graduate school textbooks. Take them home and relay that you are a grown-up. If you see kids, have a place to display your sand tray and toys in an accessible and organized manner.
  5. Convey abundance. Offer water, tea, or coffee and a welcoming, comforting waiting room. Display current, visually appealing, and interesting magazines or newsletters. Discard and replace weekly and keep the room tidy and well lit. In your inner office, welcome your clients with a comfortable couch or chair, a soft throw and the same soothing lighting. No overhead fluorescent allowed! Consider healthy plants or a small bouquet of flowers. Keep your desk free of charts, journals, or loose paper. Use artwork that is a soothing focal point  and a paint color that is rich in pigment and easy on the eyes.
  6. Finally, check the bathroom often during the day. If you share with other professionals, do it more often.

My colleague took my criticism well. She admitted she hadn’t given her office a second thought in years. After our chat, she hired an interior designer on an hourly basis and took copious notes. After a brutal and thorough cleaning, she started replacing furniture piece by piece. She admitted to me that every single client remarked on the changes — and the new energy they brought about. I can’t say for sure her client numbers will go up after this change but I can almost guarantee her prospective clients won’t feel alienated by their surroundings.