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The design of psychologists’ offices: a qualitative evaluation of environment-function fit

Originally Published:
Key Point Summary
Key Concepts/Context

Psychologists attempt to create office environments that support their therapeutic discussions with patients.  


The purpose of this research was to learn more about how psychologists use the design of their offices to support their therapeutic activities.


Ten psychologists were interviewed to learn more about how they were using the design of their offices to support their therapeutic work. The material obtained through these interviews was analyzed to uncover patterns in the design decisions shared.

Design Implications
Counseling spaces should be designed in accordance with the material in the findings section.

The psychologists interviewed made the following design decisions to support positive therapeutic interactions:

  • Psychologists liked to feel in control in their offices and often took steps such as positioning clocks so that only they could use them to tell time, for example, or hanging images of personal significance on walls so that only they could see them.
  • Diffuse spot lighting was commonly used by those interviewed to focus sessions and make it more likely that clients would share sensitive information.
  • Psychologists created offices that sent desired messages, consistent with their approach to therapy. For example, psychoanalytic and humanistic therapists used warm, comforting seating and tried to create the impression that the psychologist and client were a team by having all present sit on chairs of the same height.
  • Therapists made sure clients had a clear path from their chairs to the office doors, in case the patients became upset and wanted to leave.
  • Psychologists recognized the benefits of windows, particularly those with views of greenery, but often kept drapes drawn to prevent patients from being distracted or protect patient privacy. One person interviewed brought natural light into a space and maintained privacy by using clerestory windows.
  • Plants and small decorative objects were used to keep patients focused on the therapy session.
  • The authors stated, “Many psychologists emphasized the need for an office with a warm, home-like appearance – comfortable chairs, framed pictures, wood shelving, plants, soft colors, and lamps.”
  • Psychologists often used neutral colors in their offices because they were believed to be calming.
  • Furniture was sometimes rearranged for specific clients, and flexibility was important in those cases.
  • Patient privacy was important to those interviewed, and some had their own waiting rooms for just that reason.
  • Ambiguous and abstract art was avoided.
  • Seats needed to be comfortable but not so comfortable they led to sleepiness.
  • Therapists used radios and indoor water features to create white noise to prevent conversations from “leaking” into areas outside the office, if necessary.
  • Therapists generally felt that order in the office environment was important, but not all kept tidy offices.

Only 10 psychologists were interviewed.

Design Category
Room configuration and layout
Environmental Condition Category
Attractiveness of physical environment|Distraction/interruption|Patient Satisfaction and Comfort
Primary Author
Watkins, N. J.