The calming effect of fragrance in a therapist's office

Jeff Guenther on May 09, 2017

Individual experience or widespread phenomenon?

We've all experienced a scent that suddenly takes us back years before, to a certain moment or memory in time. This coupling of scent and memory can feel very personal and individualized.

However, there are some scents that span culture, age, and gender - to affect the mood of nearly everyone in the general populace. This study of how smells can affect our physical and emotional states is called aromatherapy. One of the easiest ways to invoke aromas is through highly concentrated plant distillations, or essential oils. These oils can be placed in a diffuser to allow for long-lasting scents to be released throughout the day.

Citrus and lavender

Research suggests some smells that affect us all in a similar way. For example, when controlling for age and gender, it was found that both diffused citrus and lavender oils had anxiety reducing effects when used in a dental waiting room. 

In addition to lessened anxiety in the waiting room, there was also an observed boost in positive mood and increase in calmness. 

Lack a sense of smell?

Perhaps most interesting, though, was that even those with a cold or had allergies preventing them from being able to perceive scent still benefit from the diffused essential oils. This leads us to believe that even those that don't have a sense of smell would be able to reap the benefits of these natural scents. This suggests that the mechanism of how mood is actually altered is not purely olfactory. This means that just because something smells like lavender, it may not have the same effect if it's synthetic.

To promote a calmer waiting room, or overall therapy office experience for your clients, consider adding an essential oil diffuser for citrus and lavender scents. Worst-case, your office smells lovely.

If you are a therapist, listen to the new podcast Say More About That. A podcast created specifically for therapists to learn more about what clients really want in a counselor. In this episode Jake, a gay man in his 30's recounts his epic tale of finding a good therapist. To hear about his journey that is filled with funny and moving moments click play below or listen on Apple Podcast or Spotify.


J. Lehrner, G. Marwinski, S. Lehr, L. Deecke, Ambient odors of orange and Lavender reduce anxiety and improve mood in a dental office, Physiology & Behavior, 86(1-2):92 (2005). 

Jeff Guenther, LPC, is a therapist in Portland, OR. He has been in private practice since 2005. Jeff is the creator and owner of Portland Therapy Center, a highly ranked therapist directory. Jeff, and his team, have launched a new progressive therapist directory, TherapyDen.

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