Starting a Counseling Practice: The Counseling Office (Part 2)
In my last article, I talked about “the counseling office” and how, while it may be true that therapist offices are sometimes poorly designed, client’s expectations of what counselor offices should look like are often derived from what they’ve seen on TV (read the previous post to view images of some fantastic TV counseling offices!).
In this article, I’ll provide some ideas on how you can make your counseling office a welcoming and impressive space for your clients.
Exceeding Client Expectations
Creating an experience that clients remember and talk about is important to building a thriving practice. When it comes to your office space, one way to do this is to have the most expensive office in town: the best view, the most square feet, and the most lavish and expensive furniture and flooring.
Truly, that’s not a bad approach! You’d sure get clients talking. In addition, according to some studies, the better your practice location, the less you’ll need to spend on advertising (I believe that came from “The eMyth Revisited,” by Michael Gerber; a great book). However, throwing your life savings at your office is just one way to “wow” your clients and create an experience that your clients will talk about.
Here is a list of ideas (most of them we have used at Thriveworks) to create a fantastic counseling space on a budget.
Paint the Pig
Adding color to the walls makes a huge difference to any space, and costs relatively little. At Thriveworks, we had a designer pick out 3 colors that would work with the tan walls that were in the office suite when we moved in. By using multiple colors, we were able to create a great-looking custom paint job, while not even needing to paint every wall (In the end, the walls were 4 colors: tan/beige, light blue, darker blue, and brown).
Don’t settle for white of beige walls. A good paint job can entirely change the feel and energy of a space.
Wall tattoos are a quick and inexpensive way to add a ton of design to your office. Check out DaliDecals.com or walltat.com. The modern designs make a fun (and still professional) impression.
Word to the wise, use sparingly (our designer warned us). Apply decals to a maximum of one wall per room, and not in every room.
Inexpensive, Original Art
Inexpensive, original, art seems to add more depth than the typical framed print.
Mywhitewalls.com offers real painted art at shockingly low prices (hint, there’s always a 50% off coupon floating around. I believe the word “Mother” still works as a 50% off coupon code, from a Mother’s Day Sale 3 years ago).
At Thrive, we bought a piece of original art for nearly every room, and it really makes an impression. Some of the paintings are great. Some are really ugly–but even the ugly paintings make good conversation pieces.
Have good Lighting
Read my text: No Dark Corners.
Lighting makes a huge impact. Make sure that you have enough lighting options. Avoid “soul draining” fluorescents. We installed Hamilton Bay track lighting (Home Depot brand), and also liberally purchased table lamps, desk lamps, floor lamps, torch lamps, spotlights, and more. We also installed a lot of dimmer switches to make the lighting even more flexible.
Lighting can make or break a room, so be sure to get it right.
Better Sound Machines
Most therapists I know use these brown noise machines that sound like tearing wrapping paper. I hate them. Instead, try this sound machine by Homedics. It has 8 different soothing sounds, and has a better-than-usual volume control switch.
Have music. Good music! At Thriveworks, we have stereos in both our waiting rooms, along with a stack of Yoga CDs and albums of bands the staff likes. When we’re sick of music, we play NPR. Clients really seem to like the variety.
A Nice Place to Sit
While you might not want to take out a small business loan on furniture, you do want to have quality furniture.
At Thriveworks, with some trial and error, we were able to find really nice chairs at $200 a piece. We also found a furniture retailer, where we could buy a couch and love seat set (high quality) for about $1300. One set like this is good for two therapy offices, if you split the couch and love seat and accompany them with one or two nice chairs.
No old furniture. No broken furniture. And please, don’t over-furnish a room—nothing makes a place feel more claustrophobic than too much furniture.
Have Lots of magazine subscriptions for both men and women. Subscribe to Inc Magazine, Fast Company, Golf, Sports illustrated, Time, Entertainment Weakly, Simple Living, Martha Stewart Living (a favorite), Health, parenting, GQ (Gentleman’s Quarterly), Wired, Parenting, People, Esquire, and maybe a local magazine.
Why so many? Well, why not? It’s not expensive (most yearly subscriptions cost under $15 a year!) Remember, your goal is to provide something remarkable to your clients. I bet you’ll get some positive comments, if you do this.
In addition, you will want to discard (recycle, that is) any magazines as soon as a corner is bent or a page is torn. At Thrive, sometimes we will throw them out immediately because we don’t like the condition in which they arrived.
Cell Phone Charger
Here’s something that you can offer that will be a big hit. You can purchase, for about $40, a universal cell-phone charger that can charge every major cell phone on the market.
Your clients will know that you care about them so much, you even want them to be able to charge their cell phones before (or during) their session.
Offer coffee, tea, and hot cocoa at a minimum. We use a top of the line Keurig machine for coffee, offer TAZO tea, and we have a glass-front refrigerator full of name brand sodas.
Also, consider offering candy and chocolate. Does it get expensive?—you bet! However, it’s just one more thing that will sets you apart, and will make your clients feel cared for.
Have free WIFI! Your clients will thank you for it, and you’re probably already paying for Internet. Bonus: Put up a sign asking for some online reviews, and you might get an immediate return on your investment.
What other ways can you think of to create a counseling space that wows your clients and get’s them talking? Share with us your thoughts in the comments section below! Thanks for reading!
Anthony Centore is a counselor, and helps other counselors build successful practices. For more information on private practice and insurance panels go to http://thriveworks.com .