When I tour facilities that are usually rehabilitation or treatment based I often am struck with “first impressions.” I recognize that funds can be limited for some organizations which makes it hard to place a great deal of energy toward our entranceways. Also I recognize that many facilities were designed with more industrial or institutional emphasis because of practical or safety priorities over aesthetics. Some facilities are more about protective measures so that there is little liability for harm to the client.
However, most of us spend a great deal of time and effort in our own home environments to make sure that our first impression is a pleasant one. We focus on colors, décor, space and access to and throughout the house. We often do that because we want our guests and visitors to feel welcomed, safe and appreciated when they enter our home space.
When I view some public rehab and therapeutic facilities for kids and look at it with a trauma-informed lens, I often feel like we are setting up our students from the very first moment they enter these facilities with a sense of coldness, isolation, depersonalization, and almost punitive perspective. The rooms are bland. The surfaces are hard. The spaces are more about security than comfortability and it feels like there is little intentionality about the design messages we are sending. Often our students are not coming to these facilities because they want to but because they are mandated to which adds even more stress to an environment that is already new to them.
As I looked at one facility I asked myself how any adult would feel if they came into that environment. If it were me the last thing I would have thought was that that kind of place was going to be a safe environment where people cared about me. Rather I would feel like that place would not meet my needs and would isolate me and that I was being disrespected because of my offense. We know that punitive environments do not help to change behavior which is one of the tenants of trauma-informed care.
So that first impression makes a huge statement about our whole therapeutic process. Our kids are so impressionable and perceptive about their own safety. They are usually quite sensitive and authentic about their developing emotions. With that knowledge it would seem that we would be very intentional about how we present ourselves to them particularly when they are in a situation that is a crisis in their lives. If we really want to set the stage for a change in their life experience, we need to be more intentional about the “front door” of our therapeutic process. That needs to be representative of our values to care for them. It could make a huge difference to whether they receive the help offered or not.