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Rapport Starts at the Door

In school we learn about the kinds of behaviors and words that can help establish rapport and we even learn how to tune in to creating a “holding environment” where clients feel safe to share. Did you know that the holding environment extends beyond your demeanor with the client and into the room where you are sitting? Sometimes we forget that our actual office space contributes to creating an atmosphere conducive to clinical work.


From the moment a new client enters your office space, you are beginning to create a relationship with them. Everything from the way your office looks, smells and feels is communicating a message. Therapy is such a personal process and we never really know how someone is feeling about coming in for services. An office space that is inviting and homelike can help put clients at ease and let them know that they are right where they need to be.


Look at your office from a client’s perspective. What would you notice if this was your first time walking in? Actually take a seat in the waiting room or in the chair or couch that your clients will use while in session. This is the only way to really tune in to the client experience. After you have completed that visual sweep you can use the tips below to take better care of you and your clients by improving your space.

10 Ways to Promote Rapport at the Door.

  1. Outside your office space, consider the ease of parking and whether or not there is appropriate signage to find your office.

  2. Once inside your office space there should be clear directions on what to do if they are not going to be greeted by someone upon entry. It is preferable that they know ahead of time, what to expect, especially if you are a single practitioner that may be in session when someone arrives.

  3. There is real value in a pleasant smell. Aromatherapy and/or candles can create warmth and ambiance. If you are concerned about burning candles in your office space, perhaps an air freshening plugin is a better solution.

  4. Something living instantly changes the environment. Plants or fresh flowers really do beautify a space by creating a natural backdrop. With plants there is even the additional benefit of air purification, that is especially important in office spaces where you cannot open the windows for fresh air.

  5. Television and books in the waiting room allows clients to have a peaceful diversion when they are in the office with other clients. There is an awkward social pressure that clients feel when another client is in the room. When there is something for everyone to focus on, that pressure to talk and engage dissipates.

  6. Color is a wonderful asset in the therapeutic setting. If you have the option to paint your walls, by all means use that to you and your clients benefit. Certain colors help to create a calm and relaxing environment. If you cannot paint in the office space, bring in large pieces of art that the eye can focus on.

  7. Having artwork in the office is especially helpful. Position it in such a way that it is visible to your clients and take care to choose images that will evoke the kinds of feelings and tone that you feel are appropriate for the work you do.

  8. If you do decide to play soft music, try to choose instrumentals. Sometime the lyrics to certain songs can only serve to trigger negative memories or emotions.

  9. For couples sessions, having two identical chairs in the office is a great way to position people to look at one another directly without having a power chair to contend with.

  10. Have you ever walked into someone’s office space and felt cramped and uncomfortable? Our environment absolutely affects us. Think about how much more productive and clear you feel when you are operating in a clean workspace. The same is true when it comes to our clients. If possible, set your office up so that your workspace is not in clear sight of the area used to conduct sessions. Either way, keeping your workspace clear and organized is a good practice. Not only does it help you and your client focus, but it eliminates the possibility of sensitive information being on display. Clients tune in to how we manage discretion.

One last note…do you remember the instructions we received in school about how to set up the seating arrangement in your office so that you are mindful of safety considerations? If so, I invite you to click here to visit Perfected Practice’s Facebook page and share what you recall. There will be a pinned post at the top of the page so you can join the conversation. Look forward to connecting with you there.


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