FP fans, meet Mari A. Lee, a therapist in Glendora, CA!
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE STYLE OF YOUR THERAPY OFFICE?
The words that I use to describe my therapy office are also what I most often hear from clients and colleagues about my décor:
The style is a combination of function and fashion, and it is a contrast in contradictions in that it is elegant yet comfy, stylish yet cozy, and both contemporary and whimsical.
WHAT VIBE DO YOU HOPE YOUR OFFICE GIVES YOUR THERAPY CLIENTS?
As a former Interior Designer, and now a therapist for over a decade, I combine my clinical intuition with my former design background in order to create therapy spaces that help people relax, turn inward, and support safe healing, introspection and sharing.
My heartfelt desire is that clients who come into my healing space are able to sink in to their session, unwind and breathe in the fresh lavender and essential oils, relax against the comfy pillows, take in the flickering candles, gaze at the art work, and gift themselves with 50 minutes of healing and therapeutic self care.
As an author I also enjoy using the space to write. It is a serene little corner in the world to create.
DO YOU HAVE ANY CREATURE COMFORTS IN YOUR OFFICE FOR CLIENTS?
I’m all about creature comforts! I want the clinical clients I support, as well as the colleagues that I coach, to feel like they have a safe space to process, create, explore, accomplish goals, heal, dream and grow.
I always include a soft throw blanket, a cushy area rug in case a client wants to sit on the floor or go barefoot (or if I would like to do that!). I provide water, tea, and butterscotch hard candies – which are always a hit. And from a design perspective, I like the gold foil wrappers on the candy because it adds a twinkle of light in the shell dish that I use – again, function meets fashion meets yummy.
Clients know that though the space is chic, they can place their drinks on the glass topped tables, or put their feet up on the faux fur stools, or pull the throw blanket over their shoulders.
In addition to being visually soothing, I like my office to appeal to all of the senses. I achieve this with a natural sound soother set on a quiet rainstorm or ocean waves. Essential oils and organic dried lavender add a nice subtle scent. I like using lavender in a healing space because it is known to reduce stress and increase calmness.
A fun design tip:
You can take a little bit of your favorite essential oil and dab it on the top of the light bulbs; the warmth from the bulb helps diffuse the scent and adds a nice touch to an office space. I sometimes create little lavender sachet bags around the holidays and put them in a big bowl for clients to take with them to stash in their own office, car or personal space.
WHO DESIGNED AND DECORATED YOUR THERAPY OFFICE? DID YOU GET HELP FROM PROFESSIONALS, COLLEAGUES, FRIENDS, OR FAMILY?
I am deeply impacted by my surrounding, so aesthetics and décor are very important to me. From the time I was young, even when I did not have two nickels to rub together as a foster care kid, I’ve always loved design, so it is no wonder that I worked in that field for many years.
I recently transitioned from a multiple room counseling center, to a wonderful executive office suite with a dear friend and colleague, Ninoska Montero, LMFT, CSAT. While I love our new offices, truth be told, the colors through out the space were not my cup of coco.
While I could decorate my individual counseling office in any manner I wanted, the building owners do not allow the wall paint colors to be changed. So, I was stuck with a mustard yellow wall, a brown wall, dark, drab carpeting, and an oddly curved wall. Anyone who knows me well understands that brown and mustard are two of my least favorite colors.
Suffice to say I really had to pull out some design magic to transform that space!
I am fortunate because my office mate Ninoska is a gem and understands how important design is to me. Other than her requests for a desk, a comfortable chair, a side table, and a “pop of color”, she trusts my interior design skills implicitly.
In fact, when I was in my 20s, my roommates and office mates always allowed me to design and decorate our spaces. And, to this day, I’m usually the person that friends and colleagues will call when they need some design advice or support.
I knew that the first thing I wanted to do with this ugly duckling office was to create a “window effect” in order to bring light and brightness to the drab brown wall. Then, to open up the space I used mirrored furniture and added various textures like the faux fur stools, a comfy throw, and the drapes to add softness and to coordinate the patterns.
The ceiling contains those dreaded harsh florescent lighting which I personally dislike, so I added four lamps of varying heights, shades and bulb strengths to create a nice soft light, and then added three candles in different parts of the space to layer in a glowing effect.
Selecting art and accessories that reflected the light and added interest, such as the seashell art behind the couch, and the large Andy Warhol Rorschach print helps add energy and vibrancy to the room.
While I gravitate toward a more soothing color scheme, my colleague buddy Ninoska prefers pops of subtle color. In order to honor her request, I chose one of her favorite colors lavender as the companion color and wove that pop of color here and there into the design. She loves it!
And of course, an area rug can cover a myriad of flaws. I found the beautiful rug for our office at Home Goods. As you can see, it really centered the design scheme and opened up the room as well.
ANY ADVICE FOR THERAPISTS WHO ARE JUST STARTING OUT AND DESIGNING THEIR OFFICE FOR THE FIRST TIME, OR SEASONED THERAPISTS LOOKING TO REDESIGN THEIR OFFICES?
In the famous words of Shakespeare,
“To thine own self be true”; follow your inner muse and trust that you can create a space that expresses your creativity and healing soul. It should be both functional, comfortable and uniquely your own taste.
Don’t be afraid to break rules! Who cares if it is a huge center or a small space? Don’t let an office without windows, or one with a curved wall, odd paint colors, cottage cheese ceilings, florescent lighting, or unattractive carpeting deter you. There are all kinds of creative “fixes” in transforming a boring or blah office into a healing haven.
And remember, you don’t have to spend a ton of money either! Some of my favorite finds have been from yard sales, flea markets, or my “mother ship”, HomeGoods.
My number one tip is to layer in natural elements like seashells and flowers. I also think mixing more contemporary pieces with whimsical pieces is always unexpected and fun. And that is what interior design should be – fun!
For example, I love a little bling and I also collect mermaids and shells. So of course, I had to add a mermaid in the corner, and a blinged seashell on the coffee table.
If your office has a lot of knife edges (Google “Fung Shui design” to learn more about what this is), then don’t be afraid to angle furniture, and to mix textiles and textures to soften the knife-edges.
Also, look for accessories that make your heart smile – a little trinket for your desk, or a fun piece of art for example.
I tend to stay away from adding personal photos in my therapy office, but if that is something you enjoy, and it supports your clinical modality, then why not? We therapists can be such a serious bunch at times, so break the design rules, find your joy, and express it in your space!
If you are feeling lost, check out sites like Pinterest, or the blogs provided here, or grab some design magazines and create a vision board. You can also work with a designer (or better yet, save a little cash and work with a therapist design coach like myself).
A favorite quote by one of my favorite women, Oprah Winfrey, is,
“Your home should rise up to meet you when you walk in the door.”
I think that is true of a counseling space as well. You should feel relaxed, at peace, inspired by, and proud of your therapy office. I also think having a beautiful space is incredibly respectful of the clients to whom we provide clinical care and support.
Mari A. Lee, MA, LMFT, CSAT-S is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist & Supervisor, and a respected business coach for therapists in private practice…
Mari is recognized for her clinical work with sex addicts and partners and spouses of sexually compulsive people.
She is the founder of Growth Counseling, a private practice recovery center located in Glendora, CA.
Along with her clinical and coaching work, Mari is the co-author of the bestselling book, “Facing Heartbreak: Steps to Recovery for Partners of Sex Addicts”, and she is the author of, “Healing Betrayal”, and “The Creative Clinician: Exercises and Activities for Clients and Group Therapy”, and a contributing author to “Behavioral Addictions: Criteria, Evidence and Treatment.”
Her next book, “The Gift in the Wound: Stories of Resiliency and Hope” will be out in 2019.
Mari is also a popular speaker and presents across the country on the topic of sex and love addiction, partner’s betrayal trauma, women’s issues, and hosts women’s and couples’ healing workshops, including, “The Shine Retreat for Women” annually in Laguna Beach, CA.
You can learn more about Ms. Lee’s work at: