Therapy Room Interior Design : the Holding Function

What difference does the environment make to the quality of the therapy given?

If I saw my clients in a 18 century ball room would it be different to if I saw them in an 1950’s ex-council building with pebble dash and windows that only open inwards by two inches? Will the progress of the therapy be any different and would we see any difference in the quality of the client’s ‘recovery’? If I was a wealthy middle class therapist with a beautiful high ceilinged victorian room with impressive bookshelves spanning an entire wall, beautifully stuffed leather sofas and sculptures here and there, would the transference be created quicker (either through envy or awe) than if I was a trainee in a box room with no windows, 1990s office furniture and IKEA £8.99 lamps? Would the chances of my client leaving be greater?
The quality of the mother’s 9 month pregnancy can play a large part in the character and disposition of a baby. What she eats and drinks and what she doesn’t eat and drink, whether she smokes, whether she is calm and her surroundings are calm, whether she feels loved and supported, what her state of mind in regards to pregnancy is. The quality of the holding environment for the baby is crucial to its future development and bonding with the mother. Similarly, in the first months the foetus is ‘settling in’ to the womb and the mother must be careful not to cause it any stress or undue strain. The first months can be precarious for some foetuses and their environment is an important factor in determining their future progress into a fully developed baby.
When new patients come to therapy for the first time they must be held with care and effectiveness by the therapist, but also by the
environment i.e. the room. If the room fails the client, no matter what the therapist says and does the

client may have to leave to get away from the punitive environment they find themselves in.
No one can deny the effects of objects on our sense of self. We surround ourselves with beauty and light in order to better manage the passage through the day.
We decorate and redecorate, we move furniture, put up shelves, arrange books, hang pictures. All in order to some how appease that sense of chaos in the outside world which our homes and our objects try so hard to mask and subdue. Is it not then quite obvious that a room is not just a room, but is an integral part of the therapist’s body. The therapy room is a very physical appendage of the Therapist, and cannot be separated. Therefore your small windowless room is you (unimaginative, dark, uninspiring), your opulent victorian room is you (egotistical, bombast,devouring), your 1950s prefab is you (mean-spirited, defensive, boring). Choose your room wisely.
What about the decor &  chairs?
So many variables – sitting position, cushion quality, colour, arm rests, type (modern/retro/office/space age/over stuffed/leather/designer)…Which one is suitable for your room? And what does each say about your style of therapy? What would Lacan choose? A yellow plastic chair with a flip up lid perhaps?

It is all very confusing, so below I try to help you out by giving you a selection of different styles you may want to consider when you graduate and have your own room somewhere and have to tell your interior designer what you are looking for in look & feel :
1900s classical : The classic look to ensure the wetness behind your ears does not show (never let your clients stand behind you) by looking like Freud. Likely to make you and the client feel you are in a period drama.

1950s Austere : The ‘tabula rasa’  interior . Nothing but your client and their objects ( bring your own chair).
Make sure there are no draughts as the negative transference will be strong enough as it is.
1970s Free Love : A look to ensure your Carl Rogers wannabe status is truly known. Likely to increase the Erotic transference and back pain. 

1980s Real: The back to basics down to earth look. Comparisons with a very cheap NHS dentist waiting room are inevitable.

1990s Business : A ‘we are mainstream’ look. Possibly your client will be unable to distinguish your office from his Accountant’s office and may even start his sessions with ‘My VAT quarter is coming up and…’ as a result.
2000 Design :
Therapist’s can be cool with it too. Possibly will be much like a Boutique hotel your client stayed
in when in Amsterdam and similarly he will forget everything once he has left.
2010 Government Approved : Health and Safety Sign ‘easy hang’ Government approved wallpaper,  and occupational therapist approved chairs.


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1 Response to “Therapy Room Interior Design : the Holding Function”


  1. 1 counselingforcreatives July 3, 2012 at 3:10 am

    I’ve been to Target a few times looking for furniture for my first consulting room. Gathered a motley collection of almost-styled lamps, exuberant rugs and mildly uncomfortable chairs, found that nothing quite works, and then put things away with a droop in my step.
    If only the Freud look weren’t so expensive! Those buddhas and venus of willendorfs all add up. Then again, I just can’t get into tweed coats, thick glasses and pipe smoke…
    Thanks for the post. It was the first to actually get me to laugh at my fear of the improper couch.


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