Picture a therapist’s office. Most of us might imagine a similar image—a basic room, painted in the greige family; overstuffed chairs; inoffensive wall art; maybe a plant or two. This traditional design model problematically relies on catering to the most patients with the least cause for offense or overstimulation. But studies have shown that our physical environment significantly influences our psychological state and, by extension, the effectiveness of therapy. Knowing this, why are mental-health settings dictated more by the lowest common denominators as opposed to what would yield the best patient outcomes?
This conundrum came immediately to mind when Healthcare Design magazine (HCD) announced its 2022 installment of Breaking Through, a conceptual design competition that seeks to further healthcare design innovation by “asking participants to present concepts that solve challenges anticipated in the future delivery of care.” Perkins Eastman designers Shayne Piltz and Bhavishya Venkitaraman said they knew immediately they would use the challenge to explore how design can improve and democratize mental healthcare delivery. “The idea pretty much jumped out at us right away because it something that’s so intensely needed right now,” Piltz says. “It feels like we’ve all been having this conversation on repeat about how our mental health has suffered so much in all the stress and exhaustion and anxiety of the last two years—and even long before that in this country where mental health is so often put on the back burner.”