By Claudia Burford

By Claudia Burford

Trauma Informed Design is about incorporating the principles of trauma-informed care into design to promote a sense of peace, positive energy, healing, and well-being.

Click here to read the entire August 2020 newsletter

Stop reading for a minute and look up at your surroundings.

Does it bring you a sense of peace and comfort? Is it cluttered and chaotic or organized and refreshing? Are the colors around you refreshing, calming, and playful, or are they abrupt, harsh, and rigid?

With the environment in mind, do you have a sense of safety or a sense of needing to self-protect and leave as quickly as possible? Finally, does the space welcome your children and other family members to relax, focus, and engage in the conversation at hand?

Utilizing trauma-informed design is a new priority for agencies and non-profits providing trauma-informed care to those they serve and is something Catholic Charities has integrated into our services since the beginning of 2020.

Trauma Informed Design (TID) is about incorporating the principles of trauma-informed care into design to promote a sense of peace, positive energy, healing and well-being.

It is much more than just “re-decorating” a room based on personal preference. This scientifically proven approach includes evaluation of spatial layout, furniture design/lines, lighting, colors, noise, signage, use of nature, and a sense of choice and safety for the purpose of supporting those who have or are currently experiencing trauma. This in turn greatly reduces the risk of re-traumatizing the individuals served when they visit our offices and discuss delicate matters.

According to designer Ambar Margarida, “What you are seeing, hearing, and experiencing at any moment is changing not only your mood, but how your nervous, endo-crine, and immune systems are working. The stress of an unpleasant environment can cause you to feel uneasy, sad, or helpless. This in turn elevates your blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension, and suppresses your immune system. A pleasing environment can reverse that.”

Before Trauma-Informed Design

Before Trauma-Informed Design

  The National Council for Behavioral Health recommends a few approaches to promote a sense of safety and calm in our physical environment, all of which have been taken into consideration when designing our own trauma-informed meeting rooms:

Spatial Layout If a space is perceived as open, with clear sightlines and few barriers, it will increase the sense of safety, as well as that of “spatial availability,” which mitigates a perceived sense of crowding. A simple, linear, and easy to navigate space is calming.

Furniture Design and Lines Arrangement of furniture needs to be considered for how it affects users’ sense of safety, perceived crowdedness, and relationship to staff (e.g., communicative or authoritative). Sitting face-to-face across a desk or table may be perceived as confrontational, whereas sitting corner-to-corner invites conversation and interaction.

Lighting Increase natural lighting and ensure adequate lighting does not buzz or flicker.

Colors Avoid deeply hued warm colors (i.e. red, orange, yellow) that may arouse negative emotions. Use cool colors (i.e. blue, green, purple) that have a calming effect. Lighter-colored rooms are perceived of as more open, less crowded (spatially available), and thus safer and more calming. Avoid stark white walls.

Noise Minimize unnecessary and overwhelming ambient noises.

Signage Provide clear and consistent signage.

Use of Natural Woods/Greenery Research shows settings that include vegetation (including landscape paintings and indoor plants) reduce stress, promote peace, tranquility, enhanced self-esteem, and a sense of mastery of the environment. Plants perform an important function by connect-ing occupants to the natural world, which has been found to reduce stress and pain, and to improve mood.

Visual Interest Limit visual complexity, such as distracting patterns on the walls or flooring, which can increase stress and anxiety. Calming art can create a visual distraction that alleviates stress and improves mood, comfort, and customer satisfaction. Avoid abstract work, which can be “triggering” to some people.

Safety and Choice One of the most important aspects to TID is Safety and Choice. For example, furniture should be easy to clean and choices in seating should be offered. Chairs with arm-rests provide protection and warmth, while loveseats or couches offer respectful seat-ing options for people of all sizes. End tables for setting things on, childproof shelving/tables, age-appropriate books and activities for children and an offering of water and allergy-sensitive snacks, are all inviting options for tired and weary souls.

After Trauma-Informed Design

After Trauma-Informed Design

  It is safe to say that most, if not all, of the families served in the Catholic Charities Mom’s Empowerment and St. Germaine’s Little Lambs have experienced significant trauma while facing the ravages of poverty.

Since adopting a trauma-informed approach to design, our case managers have seen a remarkable change in the “feel” in meetings with families.

Children attending meetings with their parents enjoy playing with a wide variety of age-appropriate activities, intentionally purchased with ages, special needs, modeling and safety in mind. Parents are in turn able to relax and engage in the difficult work of navigating community resources, better understanding parenting, child development, wellness in pregnancy, and household stability goal setting.

For more information on how we utilize trauma-informed care, contact Claudia Burford at or (816) 659-8251.


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