How Should A Therapist Dress? Feedback from Non-Therapists

Photo credit Seth Doyle, unsplash.com

Photo credit Seth Doyle, unsplash.com

A fun conversation was recently started in a professional Facebook group about what clothing style therapists prefer wearing in the clinical space. A lively discussion ensued and several therapists shared about their personal and unique style points of view. It was a departure from the typical clinical discussions, with joy and a good amount laughter throughout the thread.

The preferred mode of dress varied from simple neutral colors (black, grey, taupe, navy), to yoga wear, to jeans and sneakers. Some of the therapists leaned toward a mix and match or "capsule" style - interchangeable pieces, slacks, blazers, skirts and blouses, while others favored flowy skirts and comfortable sandals. A few of the counselors discussed their interest in building a wardrobe around classic pieces, while other therapists shared loving bright colors and adding a little bling in their closets.

This exchange was especially enjoyable for me as I happen to adore fashion and have always celebrated the diverse way in which human beings express themselves through attire across many cultures. Additionally, what to wear in a counseling practice is a topic that comes up from time-to-time in my coaching calls. Colleagues sometimes share uncertainty on how to dress for private practice, or a general dislike for shopping, or feeling intimidated by fashion.

Because of this, I thought it would be interesting to take this topic out of the clinical world and onto the "streets" to get feedback from friends and non-therapist colleagues. I posed the following question on my personal social media, as an email blast, and via text to see what my non-therapist friends had to say about this topic.

I could not believe the flood of answers I received within a few short hours (well over 40 at last count!). I selected 27 responses from my ethnically diverse group of NON therapist buddies - some from men, some from women, some gay, some straight, ages ranging from mid-20s to early 70s. With permission (thanks pals and sis!), I have shared their candid feedback below with initials only. As you will discover, "appropriate" office attire depends on the person's unique taste and comfort level. Enjoy!

Mari's Fashion Question to her Non-therapist friends

"I have a question for my non-therapist friends from a place of curiosity based on a fun conversation thread in Facebook group: How would you want your therapist to dress? Would it be bothersome for the therapist to add a little color or fun to their fashion - not showing skin obviously, but not dressed like a funeral director either. Or do you prefer something more traditional with your therapist? Thanks for your feedback, I'm writing a blog on this, let me know if I can include your answer and initials only ~ xo Mari"

I don’t care how my therapist dresses as long as the dress reads as consistent and authentic with their personality. I think a therapist who is overly dour reads as less transparent and is harder to build an authentic trust relationship with. That said, I wouldn’t want a therapist that is too out there and distracting.
— T.S.
Because I work in a formal professional setting, I prefer my therapist to dress as a professional. He doesn’t need to be in a suit and tie, but I don’t think I’d like him to show up to our work in jeans.
— R.L.
Casual to biz casual. Comfy. Not stiff or starchy or LOUD or sexy. Lol! Does that help?? Something that helps set the atmosphere to calm.
— M.G.W.
I appreciated that my previous therapist had a fun sense of style. She would wear interesting scarves, and colorful and unusual long dresses. I liked knowing that she took care of herself and felt comfortable in her own skin.
— Y.A.
I’m there for my own focus, not to secretly critique my therapist’s clothing choices. I honestly can’t recall much of what she wears...pretty non-descript. Works for me.
— B.B.
Great question Mari! OK, you know I am a fashionista at heart so it would make me happy to see my therapist having fun with fashion too. I saw a therapist for a while and sometimes wondered if she was judging my funky style and pink hair. I honestly wouldn’t feel all that comfortable in therapy with a stuffy uptight looking person sitting across from me
— T.W.
To each his or her own, who cares? The only thing that would bug me is if my counselor was some kind of label junky flaunting her zillion dollar bag and watch. Otherwise, wear what you want just keep it professional.
— K.L.
As long as they are not sporting a low cut top, short shorts, or schelping in in their sweat pants, I say wear what you feel most comfortable in that is an honest representation of who you are.
— D.O.
Color lifts the spirits so yes (to color) !!!!
— T.H.
I’ve never really thought of this before Mari, is this really a “thing” for therapists? Well, my candid answer is I don’t really care. Jeans, dresses, color, no color, whatever they are comfortable with. As long as the clothes are clean and don’t look like they rolled out of bed, I’m good!
— W.D.
My therapist wears a lot of black. Sometimes I want to ask her if she is part of a cult that only allows her to wear black. Not gonna’ lie, it’s kind of creepy sometimes. Now that I think about it, I don’t really even like this therapist. I think this was a sign for me to start looking, lol!
— H.J.
Cool thing to think about. My initial response is “whatever they want to wear” but after thinking on this a little longer here is my honest answer: I’d rather have a therapist that looks pulled together vs on the casual side. I really don’t want to see ungroomed toenails in open toes shoes, or some kind of over-the-top outfit going on. As long as they are dressed well (not like a wedding, but dressy casual) I’d be comfortable with either dark or bright colors.
— C.W.
Fun dress would be great (takes some of the scary serious stuff away from emotions). Of course, for me, sweats would be the best!!!
— M.J.N
OMG! I love this Mari! OK, here is my biggest pet peeve with my last therapist, TOO MUCH COLOGNE. I loved working with him, but he smelled like he bathed in aftershave. It was so distracting and gross that my eyes would water. Sometimes he’d give me this half (totally appropriate) hug, and I would reek for the rest of the day. It was gag worthy (the smell, not him). I finally just quit seeing him. It was THAT stinky! So my answer is: No stinky therapists, lol! P.S. Otherwise don’t care what they therapist wears, even gym clothes, but NO stink please!
— P.J.
No summo outfits, batman costumes or princess tiaras. Yes to almost anything else. As long as my therapist is expressing who they are and feels good, I don’t mind what they wear in the office. I had a therapist for years who went barefoot, did not bother me at all.
— M.G.
Hey Mari, I had a therapist who I loved but sometimes she would wear these jangly bracelets that would slide around and clank. I found it annoying and distracting. I’m all for some bling, but that was too much. I’d still see her though, noisy jewelry and all - she was really good!
— I.R.
Maybe this isn’t exactly what you are asking, but allow me to vent please: My only suggestion on what a therapist should wear is to NOT wear clothing that is covered with pet hair. A few hairs here or there fine, but I wanted to take a lint brush to my last therapist after each session. It was disgusting and it made it hard to take her seriously with all of that animal hair covering her butt!!! In a professional setting I expect a professional and clean look.
— B.J.
I LOVE my therapist and I don’t care what he wears as long as he is comfortable. OK, maybe not his sweats ha ha, but he could come into the office in jeans and a shirt and I wouldn’t mind at all. Dark or bright clothing works. Just no orange spray tans or bad comb overs please!
— L.L.
This is a great question! I think it is cool when a therapist is 100% themselves in how they dress. If a therapist wants to wear jeans, show their tats, wear vintage, or whatever style is them, then that’s what I respect. Sometimes I get the impression that therapists think they should dress in a boring way and drab it down. I prefer it when they keep it real!
— B.M.
Thanks for the email. On your question: It actually makes me feel more comfortable when he isn’t too casual. I want to speak to someone who looks like they have it together. My 2 cents.
— B.C.
Just don’t wear a political button or some t-shirt pushing a fucking agenda or this kid is walking out the door. Otherwise, who gives a shit, wear what you want, have fun, do you!
— Z.L.
I like it when my therapist wears a pop of color. But I do notice that most of the therapists in her office tend to dress like they are going to a funeral. Is that a therapist “thing” so the client can focus? If it is, that rule needs to change - how boring and sad for the therapists. Let our therapists wear all of the colors of the rainbow!!
— A.S.
Well, you likely know my answer, I’m an artist, I love color and creative expression. I respect a person who has their own point of view. If my counselor was wearing the same version of an outfit each week, I don’t know if I would stop seeing them, but I imagine I would not feel as connected. I’d rather see someone who had a more artistic way of dressing.
— F.D.
Color or no color is fine. Dressy or casual is OK. I feel like I can open up more when my therapist is more on the casual side than the dressy side.
— S.A.
I feel energized by color, so I like it when my therapist wears something colorful. The only thing that turns me off is one of those nose rings that hang down between the two nostrils. THAT is distracting to me. My daughter’s therapist has one of those and it doesn’t bother her one bit. In the end, it’s all in the eye of the beholder.
— O.E.
Years ago my wife and I worked with a therapist about 10 years younger than us. Very smart and we liked her, except the couples sessions where she wore skin tight leggings and a low cut top. It was a little uncomfortable and distracting for both my wife and I (she was very large chested lady). I did my best to keep my eyes where they belonged, but often her bra was showing and when she leaned over her thong would pop out. The good new is we would end up giggling on the way home. So, maybe it was some kind of an intervention, lol!
— D.H.
Thanks for asking Mari, I’d be happy to share my thoughts. In a nutshell, I really don’t care what my therapist wears, it could be bright colors, dark colors, more fashion forward, or hippy chick. Doesn’t matter to me one way or the other. As long as we have a good connection, they can dress how they choose.
— S.F.

So, fellow friends and colleagues, there you have it! Some candid feedback from my non-therapist friends (and sister) - a diverse group of folks with many different perspectives.

If you have been feeling anxious or uncertain about what your dress code "should" be in your office space, I would say the responses here can be boiled down to these four main points:

1. Be comfortable
2. Not too sexy or over the top
3. Be true to your personal style
4. Casual is fine as long as it is clean

 

Hope you enjoyed this fashion blog as much as I enjoyed writing it, would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!

Kindly,

Mari (Aka therapist who loves fashion )