Patients’ First Impressions of Their Therapists Begin with the Appearance of Their Offices

This study examined whether a client’s perception of a psychotherapist was affected by the first impression created by the appearance of the office. A group of college students was asked to rate 30 photographs of therapists’ offices viewed from the perspective of a client. Four separate studies were conducted, where the students rated the offices based on the quality of care and the comfort they expected in each office and on how qualified, bold, and friendly the therapist in the office was expected to be. An association between the level of comfort in the office, the perceived aptitude of the therapist, and the quality of the therapy was established by this study.

An increasing number of Americans, especially college students, are seeking the services of a psychotherapist for a variety of reasons. The counseling process during psychotherapy is fostered when it is conducted in a soothing and comfortable setting, as it creates confidence about the therapist in the mind of the client. Although the therapist’s qualifications are a necessary consideration for the desired outcome, the client will continue taking the therapy only if the setting is welcoming. Many therapists design their own offices to bring out a sense of comfort and trust. The present study examined clients’ conclusions based on the counselor’s office furniture, decorative objects, lighting, and personal artifacts on display.


  • Photographs of 30 counselors’ offices, with the therapist’s chair visible in each, were evaluated by participants, based on the simplicity of the room, spaciousness, neatness, orderliness, style, softness (of surfaces, lighting and décor), and intimacy (display of personal artifacts of the counselor).
  • In the first study, 76 students with an average age of 20.2 and 28 students with an average age of 26.8 were asked about the quality of service and care they would expect from the therapist in each office.
  • In the second study, 75 students with an average age of 20.4 and 27 students with an average age of 26 were asked how the office characteristics affected their notions about the therapist’s qualifications, approach, and attitude.
  • The third study evaluated whether the perception of the office would affect the students’ choice of the therapist while the fourth study recorded the students’ first reactions to the offices.


  • With increased orderliness and softness of the room, the expectation of care and comfort increased, along with an increased notion that the therapist was bold and friendly.
  • Furthermore, orderliness of the office room gave the notion of a highly qualified therapist. However, orderliness of the office did not have a significant effect on the choice made by the client.
  • The participants preferred personalized offices.
  • Cluttered, uncomfortable, and cramped offices were least preferred and those that seemed comfortable, inviting, and professional were preferred the most.

Shortcomings/Next steps
A study of the long-term experience with the therapist will offset the first impressions that a client develops on first seeing the office. It needs to be found out whether the first visit, first interaction, and the location of the office also affect the client’s choice of therapist. All photographs used in this study were of real offices. Artificially created arrangements will help in the study of each characteristic (orderliness versus softness) independently.

This study concluded that the appearance of a psychotherapist’s office plays an important role in the client’s perception of the therapist. This can make a huge difference in the client’s choice of therapist and the amount of time he would prefer to remain in therapy. A neat and orderly room with soft, comfortable décor creates a sense of friendliness, comfort, expert care, and trust in the mind of the client. Display of personal artifacts in the office increases confidentiality and trust between the client and the therapist. Therapists should avoid cluttering their office rooms, as rooms that are cramped and messy with harsh lighting and hard furniture seem very uninviting to prospective clients. The age, gender, and race of the client or the therapist may not alter the results obtained by this study.

For More Information:
Impressions of psychotherapists’ offices
Publication Journal: Journal of Counseling Psychology, May 2011
By Jack L Nasar; Ann Sloan Devlin
From the Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio; Connecticut College, New London Connecticut

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.


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