On May 14, 2024, Scott Rice Office Works hosted a groundbreaking symposium titled “Humanizing Behavioral Health Through Design” at our Lenexa Work/Life Center. This transformative event served as a nexus for industry leaders, design visionaries and furniture innovators to converge and reimagine the potential of intentional design in the realm of behavioral health. The symposium illuminated the profound impact of physical environments on mental wellness and highlighted how design can help us feel better overall.

Elevating Design: A Furniture Expo

At the heart of the symposium was a dynamic furniture expo, showcasing industry giants like ModuForm, Steelcase Health, Stance, Pineapple, Cortech, OFS/Carolina and FomCore. These exhibitors unveiled cutting-edge designs to cultivate supportive and therapeutic environments within behavioral health settings. Each exhibit contributed to a collective vision of humanizing behavioral health spaces through thoughtful design.

panel speakers behavioral symposium scott rice office works

Insights into Mental Wellness through Space Design

Renowned experts led discussions, unraveling the intricate relationship between physical spaces and mental well-being, including environmental risks in behavioral health. One of the highlights was a panel focused on children and adolescents, shedding light on tailored design strategies to uplift their spirits and nurture growth in behavioral health contexts.

This esteemed panel, comprising experts like Bobby Eklofe, Susan Bartlett, Travis Freed, Sara B. Schlagel and Kathryn L. Worland, shared insights on enhancing mental wellness in educational and clinical settings. Topics ranged from program development and personnel management to strategies for improving mental health outcomes for children and adolescents, emphasizing compliance standards and the imperative of multidisciplinary collaboration.

crowd at recent SRO panel on behavioral health design

Learning from the Past to Design for the Future

In a session led by Suzanne Phillips Fawley, a Behavioral Health Interior & Product Design Consultant, she guided us through the historical journey of mental health treatment facilities. The discussion shed light on how the design principles have evolved over time, from the grim conditions of asylums to the creation of dignified, recovery-centered spaces.


  • Unveiling Mental Health History: Fawley started by reflecting on the early perceptions and treatment of mental health, where asylums were synonymous with harsh conditions and stigmatization. Figures like Sigmund Freud played significant roles in shaping early treatment methodologies.
  • Deinstitutionalization: A critical turning point discussed was the era of deinstitutionalization, spanning from the 1950s to the 1990s. While aiming to improve treatment, it brought challenges like homelessness and reduced care options. Efforts like John F. Kennedy’s Community Mental Health Act of 1963 shifted focus towards community-based care.
  • Nature’s Healing Touch: She also explored architectural innovations, such as the Kirkbride Plan, which emphasized connecting patients with nature. This concept is echoed in modern designs that promote wellness through natural elements.
  • Therapeutic Elements Reimagined: Specific design considerations were discussed, including optimizing waiting spaces, managing risk zones and incorporating art therapy and libraries. The emphasis was on balancing safety, comfort, functionality and therapeutic elements.
  • Embracing Collaboration: Overall, the session highlighted the importance of collaboration and core principles like safety, comfort and connection with nature in modern behavioral health design. By learning from history and embracing innovative strategies, Fawley emphasized that we can create environments that promote healing and uphold dignity.

speaker behavioral symposium scott rice office works

Current State & Future Continuum of Care

Nathan Howell, a Vice President at STV specializing in Health and Wellbeing, recently gave a keynote about the challenges in behavioral healthcare. He talked about important trends in data, ways to prevent issues and holistic approaches that can help. His role at STV helped give context to how mental health care has changed over time. This history shows that big changes are needed now.


  • Current Challenges: Howell talked about how more and more kids are having mental health problems, which is a big challenge for communities. He also explained how laws like the Community Mental Health Act of 1963 have affected mental health care today.
  • Preventative Care and the Pyramid Model: The talk stressed the importance of preventing mental health problems before they start, using a model where early actions are like the base of a pyramid. Without enough focus on this, problems can keep happening and cost everyone more in the long run.
  • Factors Affecting Wellbeing and Buildings: Howell looked at what affects people’s wellbeing, like their basic needs and the places they live and work. He worried that modern buildings might not be good for our mental health because they can make it harder to connect with others.
  • Holistic Care and Relationships: The talk also showed models where different kinds of care are combined in one place, like the MAC Care Model. Howell emphasized that building trust and supporting communities are key to better mental health care.
  • A Future of Working Together: Howell’s main idea was that we need to work together to stop the cycle of mental health crises. By building connections and trusting communities, we can create a better system for everyone who needs help with mental health.

Safe and Welcoming Behavioral Health Spaces

Josh Weissman, President of ModuForm discussed how to improve safety and reduce stress in post-pandemic behavioral health spaces through thoughtful furniture design. The focus was on creating environments that promote psychological safety and encourage positive interactions among patients and staff.


  • Staff Safety and Awareness: Ensuring staff safety is crucial amidst increasing demand and limited resources in the behavioral health sector, spanning various settings including inpatient, outpatient, residential and emergency facilities. As attention shifts, there’s a growing emphasis on ensuring patients feel psychologically safe and supported, extending beyond physical safety concerns.
  • Design Considerations and Trends: Tailored furniture design is essential, encompassing considerations of safety, cleanliness, and patient comfort across various settings. By embracing universal design principles, furniture becomes accessible to everyone while maintaining safety and functionality standards. Additionally, incorporating natural elements into the environment fosters a soothing atmosphere, contributing to stress reduction for patients.
  • Furniture and Material Considerations: Rotomolded furniture, with its specialized design for safety, durability and easy maintenance, is tailored to address the unique challenges present in behavioral health settings. Strategic considerations in furniture selection and placement foster therapeutic interactions between patients and staff, ultimately contributing to improved outcomes. Critical factors such as fluid resistance, ease of cleaning, contraband prevention and furniture longevity play pivotal roles in guiding design decisions for these environments.
  • Prioritizing Holistic Design Approaches: Holistic design approaches prioritize both physical and psychological safety, comfort and therapeutic interactions within behavioral health spaces. By integrating innovative furniture designs and environmental considerations, these approaches aim to create welcoming environments that contribute to improved patient outcomes.

crowd and seating behavioral symposium scott rice office works

FSGC’s Innovative Approach in Kansas

Representatives from the Family Service Guidance Center (FSGC) in Topeka, Kansas took center stage, illuminating their groundbreaking efforts to revolutionize the behavioral health landscape for youth in Kansas. FSGC offers mental health support to thousands of children, teens and families annually. Facing increased demand and outdated facilities, FSGC embarked on a mission to revamp their space to better serve their diverse clientele. With a focus on creating a welcoming and secure environment, they collaborated with Architect One and Scott Rice Office Works to design a new facility.

Key improvements included:

  • Maximizing natural light
  • Flexible spaces for various activities
  • Enhanced security features

By prioritizing safety, comfort and inclusivity, FSGC aimed to provide a more therapeutic environment for their clients. The results have been overwhelmingly positive, with reduced hospitalizations and improved experiences for both clients and staff. Their efforts are not only transforming the lives of those they serve but also shaping the future of behavioral healthcare in Kansas and beyond.

Connect with Scott Rice for Intentional Design

This groundbreaking symposium represented a crucial step in reshaping behavioral health design norms. Through a blend of historical knowledge, present-day challenges and forward-thinking strategies, the event propelled a collaborative movement aimed at humanizing behavioral health environments.

Interested in delving deeper? Connect with Scott Rice for purposeful design solutions crafted specifically for behavioral health requirements.

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