Architecture and the design of therapeutic environments: the case of self harm
AffiliationArchitecture, Building and Planning
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusThis item is embargoed and will be available on 2020-05-18.
© 2017 Dr. Stephanie Liddicoat
This thesis finds that specific design interventions in the spaces providing therapy can improve therapeutic outcomes for those who self harm. Therapeutic interventions for this service user group typically involve various forms of talking therapy, and/or medications. However these service users are amongst the most clinically challenging to treat. The physical environments in which therapy takes place have not been thoroughly examined for their contribution to therapeutic outcomes. Despite a large body of literature affirming the links between good design practice and mental wellbeing, there is a paucity of research addressing specific environmental needs of service users who self harm. Further, existing design guidance is often generic in nature, describing broad principles to be achieved through design, but offering little tangible advice for the designer to integrate these principles into a realised built environment. The research involved an exploratory qualitative design that utilised a triangulated strategy; the method of data collection included three data collection methods: systematic literature review, multi-stakeholder interviews and case study observation. Key findings from the scoping review included the paucity of design guidance for therapeutic environments and counselling workspaces specifically, and that there is no published research examining the design of therapeutic spaces for individuals who self harm, specifically. Key findings from the semi-structured multi-stakeholder interviews included a deeper understanding of the perceptions of spatiality of individuals who self harm, aspects of therapeutic environments that are supportive or unsupportive and in what ways this occurs, and potential design strategies to assist therapeutic activities and psychological engagement. Analysing built therapeutic environments found that there is a limited inclusion or implementation of design recommendations uncovered in this research in existing built spaces. Through the analysis undertaken of the literature, interviews with service users, therapists/counsellors, carers, architects and design researchers, together with a case study examination of existing built therapeutic environments, a series of design recommendations were derived. These principles have been developed from environmental aspects which were commented on by those who self harm, and supported by other interview participant groups and observations in the field. The findings from this thesis are indicative that the design recommendations assist therapeutic outcomes. However, as indicated through the exploratory qualitative analysis undertaken, the built environment is a meaningful agent in therapy. What emerged from the study was the notion that for individuals who self harm, the built environment is not merely the housing of therapy, but an active participant in the therapeutic process. The counselling workspace may be a platform for therapy to unfold in a physical sense, providing aspects such as physical privacy and safety features, but offers many more psychological support mechanisms if designed/manifested in a particular way, including psychological safety and relief, negotiation of relationships, non-verbal communication opportunities, increased body awareness, reduced dissociation, increased sensory engagement and perception, and opportunities for the development of the self. The counselling workspace has active roles in therapy, including being a mediator between therapist and service user and helping to clarify and establish boundaries, being a vehicle for communication, and being a testing ground for the problem solving abilities and aspects of the self. When the built environment design initiatives outlined in this thesis are considered carefully and articulated through design and the curation of space, architects/designers may provide a platform of engagement through counselling workspaces, resulting in positive therapeutic effect. If the design recommendations were to be integrated into the built environments delivering mental health services to individuals who self harm, then the misgivings, difficulties or negative psychological interferences reported by the service users would be mollified and/or eliminated. Therefore, therapy and therapeutic outcomes would be assisted. In this situation, counter-productive stimuli are removed or reduced, assisting the service users to maximise the benefits of their therapy.
Keywordsarchitecture; therapy; evidence based design; self harm; built environment; mental health
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