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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What Should I Wear to Work?

by Sam Knapp, EdD, ABPP
Director of Professional Affairs

What should psychologists wear to their offices? Should I wear formal attire, casual attire, or business formal? As with the use of names and titles, the standards for dress vary according to context, such as the services being provided, the clientele being seen, the preferences of the psychologist, local customs, and other factors. For example, when going to court, formal attire is mandatory and doctoral level psychologists would generally refer to themselves as “doctor” in court. Generally, psychologists who provide services to upscale clients will dress differently from those who provide services to lower income patients. Problems can occur if psychologists who work with upscale clients dress too informally, in that the patients may not consider them professional enough. On the other hand, psychologists who work with lower income patients may appear “uppity” or out of touch if they dress too formally.

Women have to be careful because some men may misinterpret clothing perceived as too attractive, especially in combination with the use of first names, as an invitation to a boundary crossing. Psychologists who treat children often wear more casual clothing, especially if they do play therapy or other therapies requiring movement or getting on the floor. Also, some children view adults in formal attire as authoritarian and might be less likely to open up. Psychologists who work in hospitals or other institutions often wear softer and more comfortable shoes to accommodate the walking that they have to do as part of their jobs.

Local customs also influence dress choices. Other parts of the United States tend to be more informal in their dress, as are some rural parts of Pennsylvania. In Key West, Florida, Dr. Stephen Ragusea, a Florida psychologist transplanted from Pennsylvania, says he is the only psychologist (or professional) he knows who wears a shirt and tie, and health care professionals commonly wear Hawaiian shirts there. One younger psychologist from Hawaii resisted wearing skirts because she had a tattoo on her ankle. Although tattoos and body piercing are common among Hawaiians and many younger persons even on the Mainland, some older persons in Pennsylvania view them as disreputable. Although teenage clients might think it is cool to have a therapist with body piercing, their parents often feel quite differently.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

This information is all great but it does not explain exatly what to wear. I sugggust a blouse and dress slacks

Anonymous said...

I have to take my autistic son to a psychiatrist regularly for medication checks. His previous psychiatrist, who just moved away in June, impressed me with her professional attire. She always wore a skirt and blouse, and I really think it made her look professional and respectable. I do have a low income, for what it's worth. I haven't met my son's new psychiatrist yet, but I hope she dresses similarly.

Anonymous said...

As a Psychologist who works with children the vast majority of my time. I find it highly impractical to wear formal attire. I cannot tell you how many pairs of expensive slacks I have ruined getting down on the floor to play with children as part of their treatment. While image obviously does have some influence on first impressions, I know that once my clients get to know me and my style of treatment, and my expertise

Anonymous said...

Didn't finish my comment. Whoops. Once the clients get used to my summer clothes, think they realize it is my ability, my knowledge and my style that truly matters, not my style or physical appearance

Anonymous said...

This information does not give in detail what a psychologist's attire really is.It just goes on about informal, casual, formal dress codes.

Anonymous said...

You want to match what is considered professional in your area (for example, back slacks in the DC area but a flowy skirt in Florida) but you want to keep it understated. Nothing too over-the-top or remotely sexy or flashy. This is difficult if that is your style outside of the office. Another thing to consider is authenticity. If you dress like you think a counselor "should" dress and that is not at all a reflection of your normal wardrobe, chances are you will either feel uncomfortable or your client will perceive the incongruity. It could be a potential issue. SO... You can remedy this by adding touches of your personal style to your otherwise professional and completely understated look. Wear your favorite colors and fabrics. If you are flashy, add a flashy watch or a bold tie (just one thing at a time!). There is one exception and that is if your personal style is "sexy" forget it. Sexy dress can make people feel uncomfortable or send the wrong message. Try to tap into something close to sexy but not quite on the mark like "fierceness" and add a leopard bag.

Anonymous said...

I want to know if it is proffesional, to go to a patient's house( that is where the sessions are held) with the same tshirt ( with the shool logo) as you wear in your job as a spicologist in a elementary school