The Waiting Room as a Place of Warmth

Mar 07, 2017

“Olde SANTECLAUS with much
His reindeer drives this frosty night,
O’er chimney tops and tracks
of snow
To bring his yearly gifts to you.”

The first appearance of
“Santa Claus”from
The Children’s Friend, 1821

The Waiting Room as a Place of Warmth

TISA Description of the Problem: At this lovely season of the year, a time when the streets are filled with the delightful ghosts of Scrooge and Tiny Tim, it seems only appropriate to look at an unusual interviewing tip of the month that is not for clinicians per se. Instead, it looks at how we as supervisors and administrators can help to ensure that the healing process begins as soon as a client enters the front door of our offices or community mental health centers. This delightful and somewhat atypical tip – it is about “interviews” not done by clinicians – was provided by Everett McElfresh and seems just perfect for this time of good cheer and warmth.

Tip: “My tip is that it is very useful if a warm, friendly, and concerned welcoming occurs at the first point of contact with each patient as he or she arrives at our clinic. The positive impact that a receptionist or secretary can have on alleviating the stress level of a patient we see is often over-looked. I would also like to add that a warm and friendly “hello” or “good-morning” proffered by other staff and clinicians as they pass through the waiting areas for patients also can make a difference – sometimes a big one.”

TISA Follow-up: I couldn’t agree more. This thoughtful tip by Everett, reminds me of several related points. As administrators I think we are all very careful about hiring receptionists and other office staff who are naturally engaging and warm. But sometimes, job interviews are misleading, and we don’t always get “who we expected.” Moreover, even with naturally warm staff it is important to watch and actively coach them as to how to most effectively help people to feel as comfortable as possible while waiting. Such training requires time and direct coaching as well as follow-up observation at routine intervals to make sure the desired behaviors “stick.”

It also reminds me that as I go racing through the waiting room on a hectic clinic day, that I may have a new patient sitting there. If this patient sees a “frenzied” clinician rushing by – barely talking or smiling with other staff or patients – imagine the patient’s unpleasant surprise when he or she finally meets his or her new therapist – and it’s me! In their heads the thought may be passing, “Oh no, not this guy!” In short patients might be “sizing us up” even as we are unknown entities passing through the clinic hallways.

All of these ideas can help us to enhance the warmth of our waiting areas, and as Everett suggests make sure that the first point of contact will not prove to be the last.

Have a Happy Holiday season and see you next year!

Tip provided by:

Everett McElfresh

TISA is a site dedicated to advancing the science and art
Of preventing suicide and teaching clinical interviewing