When I started my private practice I rented an office from a colleague only one day a week and saw all my patients on that day. My colleague’s office conveyed much about her tastes and interests and had a very strong personal look and feel.
Because I had no say in how the office looked, I wondered how my patients would feel and respond to a space that gave such a particular and strong impression. I, in fact, was questioned about the many wall hangings and knick-knacks on display. While I explored this with my patients, I continued to offer as little self-disclosure about my own tastes and preferences as I possibly could.
When my colleague gave up the office and I took it over full time, I had the opportunity to redo it from top to bottom. I wanted the space both to have a neutral quality and a feeling of warmth and safety. I wondered how much of me should be put into the space without self-disclosing more than I wanted to.
Because I wanted my office to be a warm “holding environment”, I found many decisions challenging – the color of carpeting and paint; the look and comfort of the furniture; what hung on the walls; the books on the bookshelves; and what was displayed on the desk, ledges, and bookcase.
I was surprised by how many details I needed to consider during this project – details I wouldn’t have had to deal with in a space dedicated to another purpose. I took the most time and put the most thought into how I would decorate the walls. While I wanted the room to reflect my personal tastes – unavoidable anyway – I was intent on keeping a sense of overall neutrality.
The office had a color scheme of bright red. I chose a very pale gray for the walls and carpeting which radically changed the feel of the room to a light neutral. Decorating the walls however, was more complicated. While I wanted to eliminate what might be disruptive, I still wanted there to be some personality. After many internal debates, I decided against pictures that seemed too stimulating or interesting and went with photographs and paintings of Italy. They were beautiful and at the same time contributed to the overall neutrality of the room.
Going through this process was illuminating because it revealed to me how difficult it is to avoid self-disclosure and how much we inevitably disclose to our patients before treatment even begins.