Healing by Design
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Healing by Design

After working for years in a private psychology practice, perfectly designed for comfort with aesthetically pleasing therapy spaces, I transitioned into a role in a large private hospital in Dubai. A beautiful hospital, modern and bright, but still a hospital which was required to conform to regulatory requirements. On my very first day, I walked into my new office which contained a guerney, desk and chair with computer and printer…and that was about it. I very quickly became aware of the need to soften the space and make it more comfortable for my clients. A guerney wouldn’t do! Neither would a sharps box or an examination light.

A hard leather sofa from the waiting area was soon moved into the room as well as a comfortable therapist chair to match the client’s eye level as they sat on the couch – very critical in my opinion to make the client feel safer and less like in an interrogation room – hence also the quick removal of the examination light! I decorated the space with as many floral arrangements and fake plants as I could – naturally I would have preferred real flowers and plants but these were against hospital policy. As soon as I purchased some larger soft coloured canvasses, a bowl of shells and a candle, I knew the room was starting to look more complete.

Another absolutely critical requirement for me was a room with a window – as you can imagine many hospitals would have window-less consultation rooms. This was a definite no-no. With many attempts to explain this necessity to others in management responsible for room allocation, the wonderful clinical services manager, put all efforts into finding me a suitable room – and it’s perfect. Small and cosy, with a perfect amount of natural light and dimmable ceiling lights which can be turned off or softened -especially handy for those moments when I practice mindfulness or meditation with clients in the therapy room.

In my endeavours to clarify and justify my needs for a particular clinical space, my research identified a few important factors to set up a therapy room.

A desirable therapy space should ideally contain:

  • A window for natural light
  • A profusion of healthy green plants
  • Comfortable, supportive chairs
  • Nature-based artwork
  • A clean, clutter-free desk which adds to the feeling of openness and space
  • Diplomas which hang in a corner in order to advertise the therapists expertise.

Portland Psychologist, Dr Thomas Doherty, PsyD as purported that “Ideally your office should have a clean, living, generative sense—one that fosters a renewed sense of physical vitality, alertness and creativity for your clients and yourself.” Research conducted by environmental psychologist Ann S. Devlin, PhD, of Connecticut College, and urban planning researcher Jack L. Nasar, PhD, of The Ohio State University which involved examining people’s reactions to 30 photographs of actual therapy offices, found that the more a space exhibited those characteristics—cozy elements like comfortable chairs and soft pillows, attractive touches like artwork, and neatness—the better people felt about the offices and the therapists who worked there. Clients were also reported to exhibit greater openness to strategies that help maintain health and performance over the long term.

I have now planned to paint a feature wall in my office, a soft sage green colour to work well into the nature theme of the colours and decorative elements I have employed. I regularly check with my clients how the space has evolved since they have begun working with me and how this makes them feel – the response has been positive so far!

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