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Friday 24 February 2012

Private Practice: Preparing Your Office Space

This post is part of a series on private practice issues that appearing on Fridays in the leadup to a series of workshops (based on my book Private Practice Made Simple) taking place in Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, and Edmonton in March 2012 (information here).
Not quite ready.

When you first rent an office suite, you just have the bare walls – and even they may not be good enough. You need to do a lot of work to get the suite ready to see clients. Even if you already have an existing space, perhaps there is more you could do to make it an inviting and pleasant space in which to work.

In the form set designed to accompany Private Practice Made Simple (New Harbinger Publications, 2011) there is a two-page worksheet intended to help practitioners plan or upgrade their space.  You can find the form on; the direct link is here.

The sheet divides the task into categories in an attempt to make it feel more manageable.


Soundproofing is one of the problems therapists constantly face. We want to do as much as we can to make the office feel safe and secure for our clients. I’ve discussed this issue in two posts on this blog:
Floor to Ceiling

This category includes items such as carpet, paint, curtains, lighting, signage, and more. Each of these is discussed in Private Practice Made Simple. You don’t need to overwhelm clients with your design sense – they will be focused on what brings them to your office, not on your choice of wallpaper. But try to go for something neutral enough that it doesn’t speak louder than the people your office is trying to serve.

Furniture Checklist

This category is more for the practitioner contemplating new office space and how to furnish it. I went through our own space and attempted to list each bit of furniture we have, from desks to chairs to whiteboards.

Keep in mind that a therapy practice has one significant advantage over almost any other health-related profession: You don’t need much equipment. You should be able to start your business without going into significant debt, unlike a dentist.

Additional Furnishings

Some of the bits in this section of the list are less critical to have on opening day, but you will most likely want them eventually. They range from a sound system to a water service to waiting room magazines. Remember to pick everything with the comfort and best interests of your clients in mind.  Keep the Disneyland principle in mind: The line is part of the ride. The therapeutic elements of your space should start the moment the person opens the door to your office suite. So select items carefully.  Will a muckraking gossip magazine mesh with the intent of your service?


People often forget the stationery when first setting up their space. And indeed you may not need anything very elaborate at startup. But eventually you will need letterhead and business cards.


The final category is one of the most daunting for most therapists: items such as printers, phone systems, broadband, point of sale terminals for credit and debit card payments, and so on. Ask colleagues for input on the brands and suppliers they use.

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In coming months I may write individual posts on some of the items in this list, as I have done for soundproofing concerns. If I do, I will try to remember to revise this post to link to the posts, but take a look under “Practice” to see what there is. And if you have any particular feedback or ideas, please comment and make your own recommendations.

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Want more information on operating a private psychotherapy practice? 

Check out my book Private Practice Made Simple.  It contains information on starting a practice, creating a space, designing a website, getting referrals, managing finances, avoiding burnout, and much more.

The book is available at bookstores, from the Changeways Clinic website, and through Amazon here.

Vancouver Workshop November 29 2013

Click here for information and registration for the one-day workshop Private Practice Made Simple being held in Vancouver Canada Friday November 29. 


  1. Do you have any opinions on color choice and office design? Cluttered vs. minimalistic? Masculine vs. feminine? Lots of greenery? Light sources - dim or brightly lit? Art with inspirational quotes, or basic prints? New expensive furniture or mismatched eclectic? :) When I walk into a room, or someone's house, my mood changes depending on the above conditions. I work with children and adolescents and share an office with a psychologist that specializes in adults. Eventually I would like to have my own space, so I can have fun designing it to my liking.

  2. I may do a longer post on this subject in future. For now, though, I'd say that my main principle is that the office should be furnished to suit the most important person in it: the client.

    The therapist may like it cluttered, or brutally masculine, or frilly and feminine, but this won't suit all of the clients who come to visit. The room should be decorated with a degree of care, but should be relatively neutral. The therapist can introduce some of his or her own personality - and should - but not to the point that it overwhelms the space.

    I have some recommendations on designing the space in Private Practice Made Simple, but may think about this more and post about it. Thank you for your comment.

  3. Thank you for your reply! I attended your workshop at the CPA conference in Halifax, and should have picked up your book then. I would love to see a more elaborate post on this topic, and appreciate all the time you take to create this blog. It is very informative and entertaining. Thanks!