therapy office design (10)

Holding (Office) Space for Clients During a Pandemic

By Deb Owens

Many therapists are questioning the merits of paying office rent while currently working from home due to the pandemic.

I get it.

This post’s objective is not to dismiss the many valid reasons some therapists may choose to end their lease. It’s to provide an alternative perspective, I’ve not seen highlighted in therapist circles, for consideration when making this critical decision.

As someone with a full, successful counseling practice I’d like to offer a widening of the lens.

I’ve not used my therapy office since March. I don’t expect to return anytime soon. I’m taking the long view.

Much of my success in private practice is my commitment to my business.

I’m all in.

therapy office design
Deb’s Chestnut Hill Therapy Space

I choose to purchase from local owners such as bakeries trying to stay afloat. I root for their efforts and their confidence that they’ll open in the not so distant future. I can’t help but feel less “good will” toward those that are folding up their space. Truth is, I’m less likely to order on-line from the local businesses I currently back if they decide to “close shop” even if promising to re-emerge. I feel compelled to support the former category.

Part of what I am paying for is the memory of their retail or cafe space and the expectation to be there for “us” when it’s doable again.

Possibilities matter.

I’m realistic about what’s unfolding yet I need to see the prospect of being “in the room” of therapy again.

I’m supporting that HOPE.

It’s about the experience of the “space” and all it means for the process.

If I tell clients and colleagues I’m closing my office for now, even if just one client falls through over that, it’s financially worse than paying rent with the tax deduction.

My SEO and spot on Google biz listings and Maps is built on my address. Without it I’d lose search engine juice I’ve built over time which accounts for close to half of my referrals.

Although we think we make such profound impressions on those we help, I’ve found that many former clients forget their therapist’s name a few years later. They Google counselor or our first name with location to prompt their memory when looking to return to treatment or recommend us.

When I make a referral I don’t always remember my colleague’s location and expertise so I use Google too to prompt my memory when referring for fit.

There’s much to contemplate about what an address represents from a marketing perspective beyond “wasted” rent.

If only offering online therapy we must compete with those big box low paying mega platforms that have zillions to spend on Google Ads. Their social media campaigns are robust replete with videos of “spokes model” type therapists.

I’m sure you’ve seen them. If not, search for online therapy. Note how they dominate.

For most of us 1-3 clients coming weekly covers our rent after the tax deduction. Let that sink in. If we see clients virtually there’s no reduction in income so it’s not a loss for most of us.

My space is huge. It has several windows, is not in a shared suite and is located on street level. It’s safer than others in this Covid world. I realize this makes a difference. It took a long time to find it. Therapists have unique needs for privacy as well as the location of our rest room and wait room that limits where we can practice.

Deb’s Chestnut Hill Therapy Space

Perhaps this is less of a challenge for some but I wouldn’t want to risk “losing” my office.

I prefer F2F therapy sessions yet on-line work is going quite well. Many clients are currently working from home or have children they can’t leave even if I did conduct in person sessions during Covid. They appreciate the on-line convenience although for some that means doing sessions from their porch or vehicle.

Yes, that happens.

While I don’t believe my clients would begrudge me if I made a decision to go more permanently on line, holding that “space” both literally and in my heart in the midst of SO MUCH UNCERTAINTY is a good thing for them and the work we do, especially now.

My clients appreciate me “holding the space” for them. Some have mentioned driving by.

They feel more confident knowing they’ll return sooner or later, even if much later, than if I temporarily close up.

The experience of having a counseling office, even if left unused for many months, has value.

For my clients and for me the memory and hope of returning to that healing space matters.

Deb Owens, LPC specializes in relationships, anxiety, and those impacted by their own or a loved one’s substance use. She offers supervision and private practice coaching.

Deb is located in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia bordering the suburbs, in spirit for now, and provides on-line therapy for adults and couples: debowens.com

Deborah Owens