For most people that go into counseling or therapy private practice, they have dream, vision or idea about what their office would look like. They have already thought about where it might be located, how it is decorated, and how big it might be. They have also probably visualized themselves sitting the office seeing clients. After all, one of the paramount characteristics of being an effective therapist is to be able to have clients feel at ease and comfortable. The space in which you practice is so important for creating that atmosphere for clients.
The first thing to think about is what kind of office you really need to see clients. Certainly comfort, privacy and accessibility are some of the most important features. I would add that appearance and first impressions of an office are also right up there in importance. One of the top reasons for clients to rate therapists poorly in satisfaction surveys was having an untidy or dirty office.
Other things to consider are the general office location. Is it in a bad part of town? Do people feel safe coming to the office at night or after hours? Do you feel safe in your office?
Don’t be too shy about letting people know you are looking for a space
When starting out in private practice it is probably wise to start out small and functional versus big and grand. Being able to find an appropriate space to start out in might take some creativity. Don’t be too shy about letting people know you are looking for a space. The more you get the word out, you might be surprised how can get others to help you out with this task. Another tip is to place an ad in “Craigslist” or other local posting boards.
Finding an already established office space that will let you share some of these things would help you greatly reduce your start-up costs
When I first went into private practice, I was able to use some unused office space at my church. What was great, was that it was free! I worked out an arrangement with the church to see church members at no charge for the first three sessions. It was also at church that was fairly well known in the community which I think gave my practice a little bit of extra credibility.
I had another colleague who rented some unused office space from a local doctor’s office in the evenings. It not only gave him an affordable office space to see clients, it also created a great referral source for him from the doctor whose office he was renting. Also consider approaching other therapists in your area about the space they are using. You might be surprised to find that they would welcome someone to share in their office expenses and cost. Think too about attorneys, accountants, chiropractors or any other professionals that might have extra space you can use.
Other more practical things are the furnishings you will need and office equipment. Certainly you will need a copier and printer along with a computer to drive them. Also a FAX machine or FAX service will be needed. Phones and ways for people to contact you will also be somewhat part of this. Again, finding an already established office space that will let you share some of these things would help you greatly reduce your start-up costs.
Make use of free services such as Google Voice
One great solution to having an office phone is to sign-up for Google Voice. Google Voice is a free service from Google that allows you to have a free phone number that you pick to have other phones connected to. You simply get a Google Voice number that you publish for clients and set up voicemail and have it forward to your cell phone. That way you can monitor the calls and have control of incoming calls without having to publish your person cell phone number.
You can also get equipment to set up an “office phone” using an internet connection, like the OBi200 VoIP Phone Adapter, T.38 Fax (affiliate link). So when you are in the office, it is just like having a regular office phone. The equipment has an initial cost about $50-$70. But after it is set-up there is no additional cost other than having an internet connection, which you would probably have anyway.
Make sure you have a welcoming and calming office atmosphere
Besides office equipment, it will be very important to consider the atmosphere in your office. Avoid harsh lighting such as bright florescent lights. Having lamps or other “soft” lighting has a calming effect. Also having as much natural light as possible is helpful in creating an atmosphere that is calming and conducive for a therapeutic setting.
Remember, less is more!
Decorate according to your personality. But be careful about getting too cluttered or “over-done”. As mentioned already, one of the number one reasons for people NOT to return to a therapist is that they felt the office was too dirty or felt cluttered for the client. Don’t let the trash cans get over full and by all means, make sure your restroom facilities are clean and smell nice! Keep files and papers out of sight. Your office is absolutely what makes a client’s first impression! Just remember, less is more. Make it all welcoming, safe and warm!
Your first office as a counselor/therapist in private practice can be really pretty easy. Just do your research. The most important thing though is to just start looking. Starting a private practice does not have to be intimidating. Give yourself permission to just get started
L. Gordon Brewer, Jr., MEd, LMFT