NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Therapy is hard enough without figuring out whether a psychiatrist can deliver the mental health goods or not. But one way to find out, a new study claims, is to first visit his or her office.
A new study from Ohio State University says that patients seeking clinical psychiatric help do much better with mental health professionals who have “neat and orderly” offices, and that despite suffering from mental health issues these patients can still make a good assessment of a caregiver based on what they see when they walk in.
“People seem to agree on what the office of a good therapist would look like, and especially what it wouldn’t look like,” said Jack Nasar, co-author of the study and professor of city and regional planning at Ohio State University. “Whether it is through cultural learning or something else, people think they can judge therapists just based on their office environment.”
That’s not to say that people needing help should take that search lightly. On the contrary, too much is at stake on the mental health front.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 19.9% of American adults, or about 45.1 million people, experienced some form of mental illness in 2010, with 11 million of those Americans (4.8%) suffering from “serious” mental illness, SAMHSA reports.
"Too many Americans are not getting the help they need and opportunities to prevent and intervene early are being missed," explains SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D. "The consequences for individuals, families and communities can be devastating. If left untreated, mental illnesses can result in disability, substance abuse, suicides, lost productivity and family discord.”
That’s why it’s imperative that Americans seeking treatment get the best help they can. And one way to find that help, the Ohio State study says, is to look for offices decorated with “soft touches” like throw rugs and pillows. Professional, but personal touches like framed diplomas also registered well with survey participants.
The study, first published in the online version of the Journal of Counseling Psychology, involved giving a group of 242 college students (60% of whom had seen a therapist at least once) a series of digital color photographs of actual psychotherapists' offices in New York. Told that they should rate the offices based on their desire to seek emotional help there, the vast majority of respondents said they would choose a therapist with a cleaner office and “softer” surroundings.
“The top-rated offices also pointed to the importance of softness and order,” adds Nasar. “For the top five offices, participants most frequently described the office as comfortable, nice, clean, warm and inviting.” Psychiatric offices that were deemed cluttered cramped and messy were given low marks, and respondents said they were less likely to choose therapists whose offices fit those descriptions.
“These results suggest that someone visiting a therapist in a low-rated office for the first time may not want to come back,” says Nasar. “It may seem obvious that people will judge someone by the office they keep, but we found that these offices vary a great deal. There are therapists out there who don’t know or who don’t care that they are sending out bad signals to their clients.”
The study should be a wake up call for sloppy psychiatrists everywhere that it’s time to clean up their act.
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