Counselor’s Office Design – the Effects on Client’s Self-Disclosure and Impressions of a Counselor

What does a good counselor’s office look like? I guess that most people expect to see a couch to sit (or lay) on, some cushions to hug and inevitable mega pack of paper tissues in the hand’s reach.  A stage set for some major self-disclosure. Warm colors, rugs on the floor and artwork on the walls, a bunch of books on shelves to indicate that the counselor is well read, and dim lighting to create a sense of intimacy would all fit that picture too. In short, what we are looking for is  more home-like then office-like appearance.

Are we looking for a living room in a counselor’s office?; photo by High Peaks Resort

Assuming that the room environment can facilitate counseling, Miwa and Kazunori (2006) examined the effects of lighting and decorations on participants’ self-disclosure and impressions of a counselor. Their results showed that like in most situations when we’re expected to strip naked (literally or not), dim lightning seems to work well for most people.

photo by favaro JR.

In their experiment, a counseling-like situation consisted of the interviewer (female student majoring in psychology) asking the subjects (undergraduate students) about themselves using questions from a script (Ego Identity Status Interview; Muto, 1979).

photo by thatlunagirl

Subjects were randomly assigned to be interviewed in one of four room conditions:

1) no decorations and bright lighting;

2) decorations and bright lighting;

3) no decorations and dim lighting;

4) decorations and dim lighting.

The decorations included flowers, pictures, an area rug, and a tablecloth. The dim lighting condition used incandescent wall and table lamps only; the bright lighting condition used fluorescent ceiling lights only.

photo by webgrl

Compared to bright lighting (750 lux), dim lighting (150 lux) in the counseling room lengthened of amount of time patients spoke about themselves; increased reported feelings of safety, comfort, and relaxation; and improved “patients’” evaluation of the counselor who was evaluated as more pleasant, good-humored, familiar, pretty, and modest.

This is a nice office, but it wouldn’t be the most appropriate for a counselor; photo by  Dedalo progetti

According to the authors, the impact of home-like decor versus no decor was inconclusive. Since there is no further explanation what “inconclusive” means exactly, I can’t resist posting a graph describing speaking time in all conditions:

image by Miwa and Hanyu (2006)

This graph suggests interactive effect of lighting and decoration on speaking time – dim light seems to dramatically increase speaking time in a room without decoration (compare white columns), while it doesn’t add that much to speaking time in decorated room (compare black columns). Authors, however, don’t mention testing of interaction effect or its statistical (in)significance, so let’s stick to their firm conclusions – dim lighting in counselor’s office relaxes the clients, helps them to open up more easily, and also makes the counselor look good.

“Looking at it in a more positive light”; photo by favaro JR.


1. Miwa, Y., Hanyu, K. (2006). The Effects of Interior Design on Communication and Impressions of a Counselor in a Counseling Room. Environment and Behavior, 38, 4, 484-502. (link)

9 Responses to “Counselor’s Office Design – the Effects on Client’s Self-Disclosure and Impressions of a Counselor”

  1. This have helped me in my discipline.

  2. I have seen and used both. My current office has a lot of bright natural light and I’ve noticed it “feels” a little colder than other offices I’ve used. Luckily, I don’t provide a lot of direct counseling services anymore otherwise I’d need to get some room darkening shades.


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