Many people gravitate towards therapy during times of crisis, so why are most therapy offices loud, awkward and uncomfortable? This is something I’ve experienced personally when I tried out therapy in college. My therapist’s office was filled with stark white walls, office furniture, obnoxious sound machines and plenty of awkward encounters with other patients throughout the journey. Granted this was a college medical center, but that doesn’t mean it was an acceptable experience. After my second visit, I didn’t go back. Maybe I’m a design snob, or maybe there’s an actual problem with the way these offices are designed. Either way, we can probably agree that therapy offices could be better.
Patients aren’t the only ones fed up with this type of environment. After talking with various providers, former VP of Care Delivery at Oscar Harry Ritter noticed a clear trend in the distain for uncomfortable, uninspiring office environments. Cue Ritter’s idea to found Alma, a co-practice space for independent therapists and other wellness experts, such as acupuncturists and nutritionists.
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Alma aims to elevate and humanize the experience of going to therapy and other similar medical appointments through small design details that make a big difference. The first being the overall calming design of the space (furniture, plants, natural materials, colors, etc.), which was designed by Lauren Spear. Spear has also designed spaces for Google, Vice, Tesla and more.
The awkward waiting room is where every therapy appointment begins, and it’s often one patients dread. The uncomfortable feeling starts with showing your driver’s license when you enter the building and it ends with your therapist calling your name out when they’re ready for you.
To avoid all of these triggers, Alma sends each patient a personalized digital security badge before each appointment so they can discreetly show it at the front desk and slide right on by. Once in the waiting room, simply sign in on a digital tablet, and you will receive a text with a room number when your therapist is ready for you. The waiting room is designed so that no two seats are directly facing each other, making it more difficult to lock eyes with other patients. Alma has also partnered with Headspace to offer free meditation sessions, which are tucked away in quiet “meditation pods”.
Each private room is as similar to the next as it possibly can be, down to the exact same art on the walls and books on each shelf. Ritter noted that consistency in environment is important for both the therapist and the patient to feel at ease session after session.
To keep noise levels down without sticking distracting noise machines in each room, tiny circular sound machines are placed on the walls outside of each room, creating a gentle whooshing sound throughout the hallways. The rooms are also soundproof, which ensures that privacy will actually happen during each appointment.
The Alma experience is equally catered towards the therapists who practice at the co-working space as it is to the patients who choose to visit. The community aspect is similar to a WeWork model, giving therapists access to an event space, private phone booths to make patient phone calls, a whole new social network and a well-designed space to schedule appointments in. After sighing up to be a member, each therapist is interviewed, and the results are published to Alma’s directory of providers, making the therapist/patient matching process much more personable and less of a cold call. I’ll end by saying that after visiting Alma to see the space (and test out the meditation pods), it’s clear that this type of therapy experience is long overdue.