Starting a Counseling Practice: The Counseling Office (Part 2)

In our last article, we talked about “the counseling office” and how while it may be true that therapist’s offices are often really poorly designed, client’s expectations are often a product of what they’ve seen on TV (read the previous post to view pictures of some fantastic TV counseling offices!).

Exceeding Client Expectations

Creating an experience that clients remember and talk about is about creating a unique experience. One way to do this is to have the most expensive office space in town, the best view, the most square feet, and the most lavish and expensive furniture.

Truly, that’s not a bad approach. You’d sure get clients talking! In addition, some studies show that the better your practice location, the less you’ll need to spend on advertising (I believe that came from the eMyth Revisited, by Michael Gerber; a great book). However, throwing your life savings at your office is just one way to “wow” your clients and create a counseling experience that your clients will talk about.

Here is a list of ideas (most of them that we have used at Thriveworks) to create a fantastic counseling space on a budget.

Paint the Pig

Adding color to the walls makes a huge difference to any space, and costs relatively little. At Thriveworks, we had a designer pick out 3 colors that would work with the tan walls that were in the office suite when we moved in. By using multiple colors, we were able to have a great-looking custom paint job, while not needing to paint every wall (in the end, the walls were 4 colors: tan, a light blue, a darker blue, and brown).

This created both a modern and interesting look that gets rave reviews every time someone visits our space.

Wall Tattoos

Wall tattoos are a way to add a ton of design to an element of your office. Check out Dali Decals at  We bought from them, and their designs make a fun (and still professional) impression.

Word to the wise, use sparingly. Our designer warned us. Apply decals to a maximum of one wall per room, and only in a few of our 10 rooms. Good advice.

Inexpensive, Original Art offers real painted art at shockingly low prices (hint, there’s always a 50% off coupon floating around. I believe “Mother” still works as a 50% off coupon code). We bought a piece of original art for nearly every room, and it really makes an impression. Some of the paintings were great. Some were really ugly; but even the ugly paintings make good conversation pieces.

Have Good Lighting

Lighting makes a huge difference. Read my text: No Dark Corners. Make sure that you have enough lighting options. No “soul draining” fluorescents. We installed Hamilton Bay track lighting (home depot brand), and bought table lamps, desk lamps, floor lamps, torch lamps, spotlights, and more. We also installed a lot of dimmer switches to make the lighting just perfect.

Lighting came make or break a room, so be sure to get it right.

Sound Machines

Most therapists I know of use these brown noise machines that sound like tearing wrapping paper. I hate them. At Thriveworks, we purchased 10 sound machines by Homedics. They have 8 different soothing sounds, and have a great volume control switch.

A Nice Place to Sit

While you might not want to take out a home equity loan on furniture, you do want to have nice furniture. At Thriveworks, with some trial and error, we were able to find really nice chairs at $200 a piece. We also found a discount furniture retailer, where we could buy a couch and love seat set (high quality) for about $1300. One set like this is good for two therapy offices.

No old furniture. No broken furniture. And please, don’t over-furnish a room—nothing makes a place feel more claustrophobic.


Have music. Good music! At Thriveworks, some days our welcome rooms sound like a yoga studio, other days it’s classical, and other days it’s rock-and-roll. As I write this, we’re playing a Christmas music CD I picked up a couple years ago at Starbucks.


Have Lots of magazine subscriptions for both men and women. At Thriveworks, we have Inc Magazine, Fast company, Golf, Sports illustrated, Time, Entertainment Weakly, Simple living(?), Martha Stewart Living (a favorite), Health, Parenting, GQ (Gentleman’s Quarterly), Wired, Parenting, some version of People, Esquire, and I’m probably forgetting some.

Why so many? Well, why not? In the grand scheme of things, it’s not expensive (most yearly subscriptions cost under $15 a year! Remember, your goal is to provide something remarkable to your clients).

Plus, we like to throw away (recycle, that is) old magazines as soon as a corner is bent or a page is torn. Sometimes we even throw them out because we don’t like the condition they arrived in the mail.

We get positive comments all the time about our magazine selection.

Cell Phone Charger

Here’s a neat thing we started offering that was a big hit. We purchased, for about $40, a universal cell-phone charger that can charge every major cell phone on the market.

The clients at Thriveworks now know that we care about them so much, we even want them to be able to charge their cell phones before their session.

Heck, you can one-up us easy. Put a charger in every therapy office. That makes much more sense, anyhow.


Offer coffee, tea, and hot cocoa at a minimum. We use a top of the line Keurig machine for coffee, offer high-quality TAZO tea, and we have a glass-front refrigerator full of name brand sodas.

We also offer candy, and chocolate (and you should too). Does it get expensive?—you bet! We go through a lot of cups, a lot of water, and chocolate is hugely expensive!

However, it’s just one more thing that sets us apart, and helps our clients to feel special and cared for. Plus, one day I thought to myself, “What sort of a business am I running if I can’t offer a cup of coffee and a couple Twizzlers to my clients?”

Soon, we plan to offer pretzels and granola bars, all on the house of course.


Have free WIFI! Your clients will thank you for it, and you’re probably already paying for it. Bonus: Put up a sign asking for some online reviews, and you might get an immediate return on your investment.

The Possibilities Are Endless!

What other ways can you think of to create a counseling space that wows your clients and gets them talking? Share with us your thoughts in the comments section below! -Anthony Centore Ph.D.

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