By: Daniel Nurgitz, JAD Soundproofing
When a client visits a mental health professional, they assume they will be sharing private information in a safe space. As a health care professional, you are entrusted to safeguard and respect this sensitive information. You want to ensure that your client feels they are in a safe space where they can share their issues privately.
You may not be aware, however, that your therapy room may not be soundproof. This article examines some common problems related to sound transference outside the therapy room, which not only puts confidentiality at risk, but also creates noisy distractions. I will share how you can improve acoustics with soundproofing solutions that will improve confidentiality and quiet in your therapy room. We’ll also cover some soundproofing solutions to these problems at the end.
Why your private office isn’t so private
Your clients have an expectation for a safe space to receive care, one with a high level of privacy and confidentiality. Part of providing these necessities is ensuring that your sensitive conversations with your clients cannot be overheard outside of the therapy room. Sound transference happens in a number of ways.
- Thin walls conduct sound
Thin walls are common in medical buildings. Many spaces have been partitioned to fit as many offices as possible to earn more rent for the landlord. If you can hear someone on the other side of the wall, it is pretty likely they can hear you, too!
- Ducting and other sound conductors
Did you know that sound can travel not only through the walls or doors, but also through ducting and an area above typical office ceilings called the plenum? This area is used as a shared conduit to circulate air and houses the ductwork for the Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) throughout a building. It also conducts sound, which means your private conversations may not be so private. While there may not be any legal consequences due to sound transference, this potential breach of client confidentiality – which could cause embarrassment, damage to reputation, and loss of clients – is easily preventable. What would your clients’ reactions be if they knew someone had overheard their conversation?
Unwanted noise from outside the room
Imagine that you are in the middle of a therapy session and your client is finally comfortable enough to start sharing some really important feelings or information. Suddenly, noise from outside the room disrupts your client’s train of thought or distracts them. Perhaps they hear voices from the hallway and feel suddenly self-conscious. If they can hear talking, perhaps someone can hear what they are saying. Now they may feel more guarded about what they say and won’t open up to the therapist. Other external sounds – like chatter from the waiting room or unwanted noise from the building, such as the elevator machinery or water running through the pipes – may be distracting or annoying too. When the flow of dialogue is broken, it may be difficult to reconnect with your client and make progress. Connecting with a client is hard enough without having to deal with these problems.
Poor acoustics add to miscommunication
Some therapy rooms are small, which can make sound bounce off the hard walls or ceiling. Sound bouncing can make speech unclear. There may even be some echo. Creating a room with proper acoustics will help you and your client be heard.
What about the home office?
During the COVID pandemic, many professionals started working from home and are now using video conference technology to communicate. This situation comes with its own challenges too. Home offices can have similar acoustic problems to “real” offices. Out of your control is your client’s situation—technology, their own acoustics in the room where they take your call, etc.
But for you, it’s still important to find a quiet space in the house where you can hold your sessions. If other family members are home (including your pets), there may be some unwanted noise coming from outside your office. Those unwanted distractions need to be blocked so you can concentrate. Inside the room, you’ll want decent acoustics so your client can hear you clearly. Once these issues are looked after, you’ll be all set.
Fortunately, there are soundproofing solutions available for all of these issues—whether you are working from the office or from home. Unwanted external noise can be dramatically decreased to prevent disruptions and distractions. The two types of unwanted noise come in the form of airborne sound and structure-borne impact noise. Since sound energy causes vibration, even through solid objects such as walls, it is possible to decouple the wall or create a separation to disrupt the sound waves. This separation creates a pocket of air that can be further insulated with dense, sound-absorbing material. That is how to prevent sound from entering the therapy rooms. There are also techniques to apply to the doorway, as this may be an area of concern if it is next to a busy hallway.
Inside the room, special sound-absorbing panels can be added to the walls to correct airborne sound transmission. The difference these panels make is amazing. And this is a non-invasive soundproofing method that doesn’t require any changes to your existing walls. It’s quick and doesn’t make a mess. Where under normal circumstances sound waves would bounce around before hitting your ears (echo), now the panels absorb and diffuse this sound energy, reducing echo and making conversation sound more crisp and clean. Understanding speech will improve to the point that you will wonder why these panels weren’t installed sooner. Low sounds, such as a muttered phrase or quiet speech, will be much more noticeable and clearer.
Even HVAC ducting can be treated with soundproofing materials to prevent sound transmission. This solution includes soundproofing the plenum or shared space above the ceiling. This treatment is really important as sound can travel through this area to other areas in the building, even if the rooms are not adjacent.
Soundproofing: good on the eyes and the ears
The latest soundproofing materials can actually look good on your walls! Sound absorbing panels come in a variety of colours and textures, adding a professional look to your walls. You can use company colours, logos and you can even add a beautiful three-dimensional look by varying panel thicknesses or by adding multiple layers. Some panels look like brick shapes for a classic wall appearance. There are also star-shaped or cylindrical-shaped ceiling absorber-diffusers that will further reduce sound latency and echo.
Getting it done: JAD Soundproofing
Applying soundproofing techniques to therapy rooms is a specialty job and requires experienced and skillful soundproofing installers. To get more information about soundproofing, you can contact Jake Ezerzer at www.jadsoundproofing.com