Environments for Recovery

Designing for recovery –key elements to consider

An interesting ‘question and answer’-style presentation at last year’s Design in Mental Health conference in Solihull saw a highly experienced architect, and the head of operations at a mental health and learning disability services provider take the stage to jointly debate a number of questions around good recovery environments and what ‘makes’ them, what the design community can to do create such spaces, and how the quality of such accommodation can both speed recovery, and influence public and patient perceptions of mental healthcare. The Network’s editor, Jonathan Baillie, reports.

Providing an interesting standpoint on the question of ‘What makes a good recovery environment?’, in a presentation entitled ‘Emotions’ Design: A Journey to Recovery’, on the second day of the Design in Mental Health 2015 conference at the National Motorcycle Museum, were Alex Caruso and Andrew Frankel-Caine. The former, the MD of Alessandro Caruso Architecture and Interiors, has over 15 years’ architectural experience in England, Spain, and his native Italy, with a focus on ‘creating healthier and happier experiences to live, work, or heal in’. He explained that he sees design for health and social care as ‘lifelong learning, which continuously offers fresh opportunities for form to follow function, while stimulating the senses’. Joining him was Andrew Frankel-Caine, head of operations at Active Pathways, who has over 20 years’ experience ‘providing senior leadership within a range of health and social

care environments’. A business development manager with business, operational, and clinical skills, he told the conference audience he had ‘a passion for creating environments where safe and effective recovery-focused care can be facilitated, and which provide positive outcomes for patients’.

SYMPATHY FOR THE OUTCAST Alex Caruso opened the debate by quoting from the novel, No longer Human, by Osamu Dazai. “The phrase that this author uses summarises my feelings for this sector,” he explained. “It is the story of a troubled man incapable of revealing his true self to others. The quotation is: ‘If ever I meet someone society has designated as an outcast, I invariably feel affection for him, an emotion which carries me away in melting tenderness.’”

Alex Caruso explained that he and his

co-speaker would now address a number of key topics around the ‘recovery’ environment, beginning with: What is meant by ‘Recovery’?, and How we can create ‘Recovery-focused’ environments? This first question was answered by Andrew Franke-Caine, who said: “Recovery is the process by which a person is supported to build a more fulfilling, meaningful, and satisfying life for themselves within the community, away from residential care.

Alex Caruso said: “It is important that the first impression is welcoming and caring, using familiar and non-institutional materials, with cheerful and varied colours and textures.”

A combination of a well-designed physical environment, therapeutic culture, and opportunities, are all important in facilitating a successful recovery journey.” His view was that a ‘recovery-focused’ environment needed to be ‘inclusive’, and to enable the individual to have ‘choice and more active control’ over their life – encouraging skills development, and discovering a sense of personal identity. Among the key elements for this were: ‘Hope and empowerment’, Coaching and ‘a nurturing facilitative partnership’, and ‘Maximised opportunities for engagement’.

Hope and empowerment

Figure 1: A Medium/Low Secure Unit for women that Alex Caruso got involved with when he first came to the UK. By affording a ‘domestic feel’, the aim was to create a less traumatic admission experience.

Addressing ‘Hope and empowerment’ first, he said: “Recovery begins with hope, and we have a responsibility together to create buildings and environments which inspire and maintain hope, and provide a safe place to live. Hope is the bedrock upon which you build your recovery. Without hope there would be no motivation. The environment therefore needs to stimulate motivation and encourage hope.” Service-users also needed to feel empowered, since empowerment led to improved self-worth and increased confidence. Andrew Frankel- Caine said: “Empowerment comes through being involved, for instance in the design of the building, on colour scheme, design, and layout; being involved in decision-making; having one’s opinions valued, and in service-users being treated fairly and equally as partners in their recovery.”

THE NETWORK J a n u a r y 2 016 15

Images courtesy of Alex Caruso, aca+i/The Priory Group.

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