Designing The Ideal Space For Therapy Sessions

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated March 11, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Our physical environments can affect how we view and connect with the world, and your therapy space may be no different. Researchers have studied the effects of physical environments like workplaces, schools, and homes on mental health and have found a connection between specific designs and moods. Mental health treatment facilities are frequently designed with this research in mind, factoring in elements like comfort, safety, seclusion, and more to create a space that fosters the most successful experience in treatment. Like treatment facilities, the design of therapy offices should be similarly planned with clients’ comfort and success in mind. Therapy can be availed of in person or online for a more customizable experience.

Learn more about how virtual counseling can serve you when you sign up with an online therapy platform to match with a licensed therapist trained in different treatments and strategies. When seeking therapy online, for similar reasons as those above, you should strive to create a space at home (or wherever you have a reliable internet connection) that feels safe, comfortable, and conducive to being open and vulnerable while talking about potentially tough topics.  It can be important to consider how the home environment and the tele-mental health therapy office can be adjusted for the most effective online therapy treatments. This review will cover some of the best ways to design your home or office as a client or therapist so that your therapy space offers the best support possible for growth and recovery.

1. Accessibility of a therapy space

For Therapists:

One of the most important parts of creating a therapy space that works for your clients is often to ensure it is accessible for clients of all different backgrounds, whether virtual or in-person. An effective online therapy practice or in-person office experience might include using high-quality headphones so hard-of-hearing clients can understand your conversations more easily or adding visual aids for clients who learn better from written material. The best way to ensure your office is accessible to online and in-person clients can be to ask before or at the beginning of your first session whether they need any accessibility accommodations and communicate with a supervisor about how to implement those if you are at all concerned about your ability to do so.

For Clients:

The counselor you work with should be open to providing an accessible space for you, whatever that looks like. If you have accessibility concerns when working with a new in-person or virtual counselor, you might communicate those concerns with your therapist, and request any changes you need to get the most out of your treatment. If you encounter a mental health professional who cannot offer accessibility accommodations, it can be better to find a new therapist who can more effectively meet your needs. Seeking therapy should be possible and beneficial for everyone.  Online therapy can be a great option for those who find a physical therapy space intimidating or inaccessible for whatever reason.

2. Complete secrecy

For Therapists:

Your clients should generally feel completely safe in your space, whether it’s a telehealth session or an in-person session. Maintaining personal space can be integral to your client’s safety and ability to be open with you, which is often a crucial part of working together efficiently. You might reinforce this by closing all windows and doors, placing your phone on silent where it is not in view, and ensuring no outside noise makes it in or out of the space. You can also add a white noise machine to prevent distracting noises and muffle the sounds from your office.

For Clients:

During the session, you should feel comfortable expressing all your thoughts with your therapist, and exclusivity is typically a key element to that comfort. The therapy platform you choose should be tailored to a secluded and productive experience. If your therapist’s office does not feel like a personal space to you, you could either have a conversation with them or find a new therapist who values their clients’ individual space. When you have telehealth or online counseling sessions, you can maintain this by closing doors and windows and adding white noise from your phone or a fan to silence your voice from the space. You can also discuss with family or roommates that they should not enter your space for the session duration.

3. Cleanliness and tidiness

For Therapists:

A cluttered physical space can often translate to a cluttered mental space. If your therapeutic space seems messy, untidy, or otherwise disordered, it can affect your practice; your clients may feel that your treatment will match the area. Presenting a tidy, thoughtfully organized room can give the impression of focus, clarity, , and skill in your relationship with a client. That doesn’t mean you need to be a minimalist. Instead, you might try removing any trash or unnecessary items, taking inspiration from another therapeutic space you connect with.

For Clients:

The area you sit in, virtually or in person, should reflect a feeling of simplicity and organization. Your therapist’s office should make you feel safe in their ability to manage clutter and create a professional environment for you. For virtual therapy in your own home, you might benefit from removing unnecessary items around you, whether that means moving your work materials during your therapy session or setting up a specific space for online counseling periods.

4. Maximum comfort for therapy

For Therapists:

Whether you work through in-person or virtual counseling, you can create a space that feels physically comfortable for your clients. For in-person clients, it can be helpful to ensure that there is seating for you both, with adequate space around the room, or alternative seating for clients who prefer options. You can do the same for virtual clients by creating a space that reflects comfort, such as adding calming art, soft-colored carpets, or ambient lighting.

For Clients:

When you do therapy from your home or other personal space, you might try to create an area that feels comfortable to you. That may look different for everyone, but you might enjoy a good chair, a blanket if you get chilly, artwork you love, or small trinkets on your desk that bring you tranquility. It can be beneficial to choose lighting that fits your emotional experience, perhaps natural lighting from a window or ambient lighting from a few lamps. Likewise, it can be helpful to seek a counselor’s office that offers things that comfort you, like soothing lighting.

5. Enough supplies for therapy

For Therapists:

Different counselors may prefer to use different supplies in their offices to help their clients curate strong coping strategies and heal. Still, a few essentials may be a notepad, paper, or other note-taking tools, tissues for in-person clients, headphones for virtual sessions, and chargers for your computer or phone. You might also like to keep art supplies, writing utensils for your clients or even a whiteboard to illustrate complex concepts. If there are any texts you regularly use with clients, having them readily available can be helpful.

For Clients:

In virtual or in-person therapy, you can ensure your therapist’s office or your home has the supplies you need on hand. Tissues, note-taking supplies, and headphones are often important for both therapy styles. In addition, self-care supplies like a stress ball, aromatherapy items, herbal tea, and a journal can make virtual sessions more comfortable and can be nice to have on hand when you finish a session.

6. Zero distractions in the space

For Therapists:

Another essential part of creating a successful therapeutic space is eliminating distractions and potential triggers in the space. That generally includes turning off notifications on your phone or laptop, which should be silenced and stored away. You can also limit distractions by maintaining a tidy space free of clutter.

Positive distractions can have a beneficial effect on therapy space design by giving the client something positive to focus on while discussing upsetting topics. Examples of positive distractions are calm paintings on the wall, toys, journals, or plants. Research shows interacting with indoor plants could help reduce stress.

For Clients:

For your benefit, you might turn off notifications on your phone or laptop and silence any devices while you’re in therapy, regardless of where it takes place. If your counselor does not respect your time and you notice distractions, like regular phone calls, eating during the session, or something else, it might be time to seek a new counselor.

7. Personalization

For Therapists:

Finding the line between over and under-expressing can be difficult for many therapists. A good way to approach involving your personal life in your therapy space may be to remove as much as possible while leaving a few personal pieces. For example, you might move a bookshelf or wall of family pictures out of the line of sight of your virtual clients but keep a few souvenirs like favorite art pieces or educational credentials. It can be up to you how many personal items your office has, but you might make sure to create a space where your client feels welcome.

Adding personal elements to a counseling space should be limited to avoid distractions or potential triggers for the client. Everything in the space should be intentional and for the client’s benefit. However, having some personal items in the office decor may prevent a clinical feel and also help some clients feel more connected to their counselor.

For Clients:

As the client, you usually have leeway into how much personality your at-home therapy space can offer to virtual therapists. If you feel comfortable, it can be perfectly fine to leave your space as is, but it may also be okay to adjust your camera or add a room divider if you would rather keep your home discrete. On the other hand, you can also decide how you feel about a new therapist’s in-person or virtual therapy space. If your counselor has family pictures or other personal items in frame or in-office and you feel comfortable with them, it is not necessarily a problem. Likewise, you can discuss it with your counselor if you prefer less personalization.

8. Appealing therapy office decor

For Therapists:

Interior design experts recommend decorating a therapy space with warm, relaxing colors. The waiting rooms should also be a place of rest, healing, and hope as soon as clients walk in the door. Adding pieces of nature such as indoor plants, fountains, or nature photography prints on the wall can help patients relax. Framed inspirational quotes can also add some uplifting words to the client’s day. Some examples of design elements that help create a sense of calm at a therapy practice include natural wood surfaces, round tables, comfortable furniture, and natural lighting. A built environment for therapy should have a stress-free seating arrangement, preferably with multiple seating options such as both couches and chairs. Light color paint on the walls with natural colored wood furniture and natural lighting is an example of a calming interior environment. 

For Clients:

If you find the therapist’s office or decor overwhelming, you may not be inclined to continue returning. You can do some research into what the office is like before going by browsing their website or reading online reviews. Mental health professionals do not always list photos of their office’s interiors online, but some do have images of the office layout and waiting rooms for potential clients to see. The office decor may reflect what kind of experience to expect. For example, a creative arts therapist may have a more colorful office compared to a psychotherapist. 

Takeaway

As a client or practicing therapist, it can be important to devote attention to creating a safe and inviting therapy space and know what to look for when working with new counselors. As a therapist, you are likely to encounter a wide range of client needs depending on their condition – those with mood disorders like anxiety, and depression, and others may need something different than those seeking help with trauma or lifestyle changes, for example. Your practice should feel welcoming to all. As a client, whether you’re seeking depression therapy or simply looking to better manage stress, taking the time to design your therapy space can help you make better progress in your treatment. 

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

Establishing a feeling of comfort, reliability, and attention during any therapy session is often essential for the most successful in-person or virtual therapy treatment. If you’d like to get started with therapy from the comfort of your home, you can take a brief questionnaire to match with a therapist who suits your needs. As this study explains, online therapy can be highly effective in treating a variety of mental health concerns. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you feel you’d benefit from working with a mental health professional in therapy.

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