Creating Therapeutic Space

Photograph of a bird on one of the wall stickers at  The Apple Tree Centre

We had a big project on our hands. We needed to transform an adult psychotherapy centre, painted in dark rich, (and at times womb-like) tones into a therapy and wellbeing centre for children and young people. We felt ourselves lighten emotionally as we painstakingly covered the dark walls with pale paint, took down the heavy curtains, let the light in…

We listened to our instincts, chose colours that made us feel calmer, lighter, imagined being smaller and smaller still. There was one thing we were sure about, that we wanted this place to say to children and young people: “This is for, you are at the centre of everything that happens”.

We began with the waiting room. This is a small but high room that has lots of natural light and the space lifted us. There were things here we needed to say: “This space is for you too, mum, dad, sister, brother, carer, supportive friend”. Comfortable sofas, cushions, bean bags, a soft rug and basket of toys, books, music. “You’re welcome to sit, relax, read, play, make noise here”.

We know that places that have hard lines, textures and that lack personal touch, feel cold, uninviting, anxiety-provoking, depressing and clinical. Some of the children we see who are experiencing mental health problems have probably been in these places; the GP’s surgery, the hospital, the headteacher’s office.

We also know that a playroom in which the furniture, toys and art materials are all brand new, neat and perfect speaks of an inaccessibility and specialness to the child, suggests that these things are for ‘best’, not to be spoiled. We have ‘played with’ toys, beanbags and broken crayons in our playrooms. These say to the child: “Play with me, draw with me and don’t worry about doing it neatly”.

There is a consistency in colour and theme in our centre, just as there is consistency in our acceptance, regard and nurture of our clients. The spaces flow and are predictable, there are no shocks, nothing jars, nothing interrupts.

We are The Apple Tree Centre. The logo we had designed and edited and tweaked, has a child at the centre and suggests roots, growth, movement, change and release. We like the metaphor. Our rooms each have a large wall-art tree, some have birds, some butterflies, leaves fall and are blown. There is blossom and even a squirrel. We are playful and have made our spaces playful. The squirrel lives in our smallest playroom, it has a lower ceiling and is just right for our youngest clients. The other rooms are for anyone, and work hard to be ageless and neutral.

The result is a building designed around children and young people, filled with materials to explore and to use to experience change, transformation, release.

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