“Ideally your office should have a clean, living, generative sense—one that fosters a renewed sense of physical vitality, alertness and creativity for your clients and yourself…”

At the 2013 American Psychological Association (APA) Meeting, I provided a therapist’s perspective at presentation “Design of the Psychotherapist’s Office – Lessons from Research and Experience.” During the talk, environmental psychology researchers such as Ann Devlin discussed ways to design therapy offices and meeting rooms that helped clients to feel more comfortable and willing to discuss private matters. Key factors included the layout of the space, amount of light, art and furnishings, and views of nature. Studies also found that having multiple diplomas or credentials displayed in the office increased clients’ estimates of the therapist’s competence and their energy.

Healing by Design

These findings are revisited in “Healing by Design,” an article in this month’s Monitor on Psychology. My North Portland office was featured in the opening:

As clients enter the Portland, Oregon, office of psychologist Thomas Joseph Doherty, PsyD, they are greeted by the majestic sight of Mt. Hood out an east-facing window, a profusion of healthy green plants, comfortable, supportive chairs and nature-based artwork. Diplomas hang in a corner to advertise Doherty’s expertise, and his clean, clutter-free desk adds to the feeling of openness and space. “Ideally your office should have a clean, living, generative sense—one that fosters a renewed sense of physical vitality, alertness and creativity for your clients and yourself,” says Doherty, whose practice centers on helping his clients develop what he calls “sustainable” habits like rest, exercise, social support and connection with nature—strategies that help maintain health and performance over the long term.

Doherty’s space is a good example of today’s direction in health-care design, which uses research on human behavior and design principles to promote positive interactions between therapists and clients.

The Importance of Indoor Places

The Monitor story highlights why I think it’s important to integrate environmental psychology into clinical and counseling psychology. (I discuss environmental psychology in this series of videos.) Time and again studies show that our physical setting affects our mental health well-being. This isn’t just the outdoors — but the INDOOR settings we spend much of our time in, home and work as well as healthcare offices. The importance of nature views and pleasing spaces is focus of state-of-the-art hospital design. But, these advancements can lag in the counseling and psychotherapy world, since most mental health practitioners lack any training or expertise in environmental psychology or design.

Practicing my Sustainability Values

I have specifically chosen my office spaces at the NuMiss Building in North Portland and the “therapy yurt” in Southeast Portland to offer my clients pleasing design and an opportunity for a simpler, outdoor friendly setting. Sustainable design also includes the very structure of the building and the materials used in its construction. NuMiss is the third LEED-rated “green building” that I have had an office in.

Office Design Principles in Action

What does an ideal office look like? Here are some images I used in the 2013 APA presentation, illustrating design principles applied in the office I had at the LEED-Gold Vanport Square building in Northeast Portland:

Be Well!  — Dr. Thomas Doherty

Published by Thomas Doherty

Psychologist Thomas Doherty's work on environmental sustainability and health has been featured in publications like the New York Times and in talks worldwide. Thomas consults with individuals and organizations through his business Sustainable Self. He was the founding Director of the Ecopsychology Certificate Program at Lewis & Clark Graduate School and Founding Editor-in-Chief of the peer-reviewed academic journal Ecopsychology. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

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