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Designing Your Therapy Waiting Room: The Ultimate Checklist

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But they don't often consider their waitingMental health professionals often spend a great deal of time planning, decorating, and arranging their therapy offices. room, and this is a big mistake. Rapport matters throughout the relationship, and waiting rooms are the absolute first physical impression a client has about your physical environment. You want to ensure that the space feels comfortable, inviting, and safe for your clients. Here are the best ways to optimize your waiting space.

Don't Assume Potential Clients Know Who You Are (Or Where You Are)

You provided your address on the consultation call. You followed it up with an email reminder, and it's posted on your website. But chances are, during that first session, your client is feeling anxious and unsettled, and the last thing they need is to scramble to find your office at the last moment.

This is why having clear, transparent signage is so important. Clients should absolutely know that they're in the right place. This means that you need to have explicit signs indicating that you work in that office.

Logistical checklist:

  • How will you know your client is in the waiting room (will they press a light switch? Will they check in on a tablet or with a receptionist? Will you simply come out and get them at the right time?)
  • If you are in a suite number, can they clearly track where you work from the parking lot?
  • Is it clear where they can wait for you (i.e. are the chairs organized in a friendly and inviting way?)

Engage All Five Senses in the Therapeutic Waiting Room

Mental health services are vulnerable services, and they require a significant investment of both time and money. You want your waiting areas to authentically represent the safety and compassion you strive to emulate within your therapeutic practice.

Sight: What kind of mood are you hoping to inspire? How does your physical design represent a sense of psychological safety? When you look around at the waiting room decorative items, what feelings come up for you? Remember to keep the area free from clutter and make sure to have a trashcan available for clients. 

Smell: Be mindful of allergies and other aversions to strong scents. It's better to have a neutral smell than a strong fragrance. Some clinicians opt to light a candle or have a diffuser. Make sure to periodically check the waiting room furniture to check for any lingering smells. 

Sound: Consider playing pleasant classical tunes in the waiting room. Avoid harsh lyrics or anything that may be deemed too contemporary or controversial. If the office gets noisy with numerous staff going in and out, consider using a white noise machine instead.

Taste: While it's not necessary, consider offering water, tea, coffee, or mints in the waiting room. Clients often consider this to be a nice touch, and it can help alleviate initial nerves. If you work with children or adolescents, consider stashing snacks for them. 

Physical feelings: How comfortable are the seats? Are they spaced too closely together? Are the cushions soft and inviting? Are you mindful of the temperature? People don't like to be too hot or too cold, so keep that in mind as they are sitting and waiting for you. Consider having tissues available as well. 

Incorporate Meaningful Artwork and Decor

Artwork and decor add personalization to your waiting space, and this can play an important role in overall sensory modulation. However, it's essential to be authentic in the message you convey. Just like everything with mental illness, strive to be mindful of cheesy cliches and try to avoid potential triggers.

Inclusivity matters. Consider your population and make sure that your waiting room reflects their needs and values. This is part of your branding, which means it’s both part of your therapeutic marketing and your clinical presence. You don't want to perpetuate negative stigmas about discrimination or implicit biases. When in doubt, nature scenes tend to be soothing.

Plants can also be soothing, but it's important that you only use live plants if you can commit to taking care of them. Dying or dead plants can certainly be off-putting, so if that's a risk, consider investing in a few high-quality fake ones.

Be Pleasant and Neutral When Walking Back to Your Office

Technically any form of communication with a client can be considered therapeutic.

But the walk from the waiting room to your office shouldn't initiate the start of your session. You need to wait until you're both in the private therapeutic space to talk about your client's needs and feelings.

You don't have to chat during the walk back to your office, but if you do, consider defaulting to fairly safe and neutral topics including the weather or any relevant current events. Clients may also use this opportunity to engage in safe small talk, and that can also be appropriate.

Integrate Any Feedback

Despite your best efforts, practicing therapists will find that no one approach works best for everyone. Different needs call for different contexts, and even the most carefully and thoughtfully designed environment may still evoke negative reactions.

If a client shares feedback about your waiting room or counseling space, it's important to consider their thoughts and feelings. They may be sharing something other people also feel, and such patterns may even affect overall treatment outcomes.

When in doubt, consider soliciting feedback from trusted colleagues. It can be helpful to also tour other counseling spaces in the area to see how other providers set up their rooms.

What If You Don't Have a Waiting Room?

Not all healthcare settings are set up for therapeutic waiting areas, and that's perfectly okay. You may not be able to control this part of your office. It’s not the end of the world!

If you don't have a waiting room, you still need to establish a protocol for how clients will communicate with you upon their arrival. Some decide to wait in their cars and text their providers to indicate they are on the premises. Others might knock on the door or simply wait outside.

Confidentiality can certainly influence waiting area experiences, and this becomes more pronounced if you don't have a designated space. Try to be mindful of when you start and end sessions, as you may not want clients to see each other in between session times.

How Navix Health Maximizes the Mental Health Service Experience

At Navix Health, we support our clinicians at every stage of their professional development. Our service users range from individual practitioners to massive, large-scale behavioral health industries. We focus on implementing integrity and building high-quality customer relationships as our top priority.

If you're interested in optimizing your mental health service settings, Navix Health can streamline everything from clinical documentation to claims management to billing. Our highly adaptive, flexible software allows you to focus on what you do best: providing excellent client care.

Contact us today to schedule a complimentary, custom demo. 

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