Lighting your therapy office space

Jeff Guenther on Mar 07, 2017 in Physical Office

It’s no surprise that lighting plays heavily into our energy and mood. Go to a popular date night restaurant, and you’ll find low, soft lighting. Visit your local bulk warehouse club, and the bright, fluorescent lights match the highly functional surroundings. In the case of the restaurant, the soft lighting is calming and romantic - in the warehouse, you’re meant to feel like you’re getting a deal due to the no-frills surroundings.

Are there learnings here we can take to the therapist office space? Turns out, this anecdotal evidence does have credence. A study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found different light levels to promote different styles of interpersonal communication. However, the results were surprising.

Bright lights stimulate open conversation

Strangely enough, bright lights stimulate not just general, but also intimate communication. While softer lighting levels start out encouraging intimate communication, over time, these dimmer lights actually dampen communication as a whole. This may be counter-intuitive to the long-held notion that dimmer lights result in more intimate conversations.

It’s possible that the lower lights caused reduced arousal and energy, which counteracted any benefit the reduced arousal and energy from the dimmer lights afforded and resulted in less communication overall.

Does your office have more of a soft, dimly lit aesthetic? It might be worth considering brightening things up a bit to see if that has any effect on your clients’ openness.

Warm versus cool lighting

Color temperature of the light can play a part, as well. Warmer tones have been correlated with increased arousal and energy, while cooler tones are more calming. Furthermore, individuals have variable sensitivities to stimuli such as color.

Where you may want to increase the energy of a certain client, another may benefit from a more soothing atmosphere. Try a color-changing light bulb that can be controlled remotely to either subtly warm up or cool down a room’s aesthetic on a per-client (or per-session) basis.  

A large difference can be done with very little effort. In the examples below, the only difference is a single light being turned on or off.

While you’re here…

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If you’re a therapist please consider signing up for a FREE profile with TherapyDen. Help make a difference. Sign up with TherapyDen by clicking here. No credit required. Delist anytime.


N. Kwallek, H. Woodson, C.M. Lewis, and C. Sales, Impact of three interior color schemes on worker mood and performance relative to individual environmental sensitivity, Color Research & Application, 22, 121-132 (1997).

R. Gifford, Light, decor, arousal, comfort and communication, Journal of Environmental Psychology, 8, 177-189 (1988).

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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