How cool is this? Science and art combine to prove that therapy room décor plays a big role in a client’s experience

 In All, My Dream Therapy Room, Therapy

If you’ve been following my weekly feature “My Dream Therapy Room“, then you will know that I think a lot about the impact my therapy room has on my clients. It seems perfectly natural to assume that “the couch” is representative of the therapist but how many therapists think about this when decorating their rooms?

“Studies have found that people judge a therapist’s competence and expertise based on the formality of an office and the number of diplomas on a wall. Then again, personal touches can serve to humanize the therapist and perhaps invite disclosures by the patient. Establishing the best backdrop for a therapeutic bond takes stylistic balance–perhaps more than therapists possess.”

This quote comes from an article titled, “How Do These Curtains Make You Feel? The Science of Therapists Offices” in which the art project of a photographer Saul Robbins called “Initial Intake” is presented.  A research project was conducted that asked participants to rate the quality of care they expected to receive as well as rate their perception of therapist qualification and friendliness based on Robbins’ images.

The researchers “found that two of the 23 design factors held significantly more importance to the perception of the office than the rest: neatness and chair comfort. Order, space, style, and color of the setting formed a second-tier cluster in the ratings. Personal items, paintings, and diplomas held middling importance. Family pictures came in last”.

The picture below is an example of the kind of room that participants rated highest.


© 2014, Saul Robbins.

In comparison “the office below, for instance, scored very high on the perceived friendliness of the therapist, no doubt based on its soft and homey décor. It failed to convey the neatness required of a professional therapy setting, however, and when asked to choose a therapist based on office appearance alone, test participants ranked this one near the bottom.”

© 2014, Saul Robbins.

“In a follow-up study, published in 2012, Nasar and Devlin showed the same 30 office photographs to 32 licensed psychotherapists. They found that, generally speaking, therapists were less sensitive to the importance of an orderly office than potential patients were. But they did give higher ratings to office settings that reflected softness and personalization; their top-rated picture, shown below, has many of the same qualities as the one rated highest in the prior study (which finished second this time around).”

© 2014, Saul Robbins.


What do you think of the conclusions of this study? Does a therapy containing “warm colors, a soft chair, a clean side table, and just enough personal items to add some character” do it for you? Do you agree with the need for the therapy room decor to strike a balance between ‘soft and friendly’ and ‘professional’? What do you make of the fact that therapist participants  were less sensitive to these kinds of dimensions?




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