The new building: HSU’s Community Clinic

bss.jpg  Humboldt State University (Arcata, CA) has a new Behavioral & Social Sciences Building.  They were talking about it when I first started there in Fall 2000, and the psychology professors were very excited.  It would have the labs we needed, facilities for the grad students, and be “better organized.”  It took much longer to design and build than planned, but five departments moved into it this Summer, and classes began in it two weeks ago.  Of course, it’s still not quite done — there is an area roped off in the foyer, because they are still working on the floor (wooden blocks — very nice), and there are still “Wet Paint” signs in various areas.  But the view from the fifth floor balcony (you can see them in the photo) is spectacular, and just high enough to see over the surrounding evergreen trees. 

As a graduate student in the Counseling Program, I work in the Psychology Department’s on-campus clinic.  Last semester it was called Davis House (in a house previously owned by the Davis family); I wrote about seeing the last client there in  .  I was hoping they would keep that name, but now that we are in the new building, the Department has decided to call it HSU Community Clinic.  I was excited about working in the new clinic, and looked forward to seeing what it would be like.

It is new, clean, has a great view (out the second story, with evergreens), and the clinic area has a pleasant varigated-green/black carpet.  The waiting area is more spacious, and there is a counter with an open window for the administrative assistant to sit behind.  That is the good stuff. 

Am not sure how much detailed input the Psychology Department had in designing the clinic area, but at this point there is nothing they can do about it.  They have no say in what color the walls are, or even final say about what can go on the walls.  Apparently they are even being told what furniture they will use.  I write all this so you will know my frustration is not with them.

The approach to the clinic is down a long, creamy white hallway with slate grey/black  floors.  It seems to stretch on forever, and provokes a feeling of anxiety, like something out of a Hitchcock movie.  The window in the door is clear glass, so anyone can walk by and see the clients in the reception area.  The therapy rooms are huge (twice as big as needed, unless you are doing group counseling) and have creamy white walls (making the rooms feel even bigger).  The energy efficient light switches turn off the lights after about 10 minutes (because we are sitting there in chairs, without much movement).  There is an observation area behind a one-way mirror (for the supervisor), which is where the video equipment will be for each group.  However, the Dean insisted the Department couldn’t keep its audio/computer technician (not enough money, even after the tuition increase), so it is apt to be a month before the cameras and video equipment will be in place.  Apparently the new, modular furniture hasn’t arrived, so fortunately we are using the comfy, upholstered chairs that used to be in Davis House.  I hear the interior designer had “forbidden” us to take those chairs into the new building.  She is also the one who won’t let us hang anything on the walls unless it is framed, and who won’t let us paint the therapy room walls in darker colors so the rooms are more cozy and conducive to intimate conversation.  I considered putting up a couple portable decorator screens to create a more intimate space, but that would block the observation mirror.  So, for now, the therapy room chairs are grouped near the window (where at least the view is nice) in an effort to create an island in the midst of all that space. 

Am sure the official descriptions of the building and its interior are full of words like “clean” and “spacious.”  However, in reality the words that come to mind are “sterile” and “institutional.”  I suspect the interior decorator has never worked as a therapist, and has no idea how important it is to create a safe and contained atmosphere when working with a client.  Surroundings DO make a difference.  If the therapists-in-training can create a supportive atmosphere in those rooms, they will probably be able to do so anywhere.  Maybe it’s a test?

 I miss Davis House.


About judithornot

Lives in semi-rural Northern California, happily married, retired counselor, night person, knits, plays WoW.
This entry was posted in Mental Health, practical art and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The new building: HSU’s Community Clinic

  1. ironwing says:

    You’re fortunate to have begun your studies in a place where you felt comfortable and safe. Now you’re being challenged to work in a place that feels empty and alien (at least it’s not actively inimical…yet). From the former, you learned what works for you, and developed appreciation for pleasant surroundings created by others. From the latter, you’ll learn what you don’t like and how to remedy it with your own ability to create healthy (and perhaps even sacred) space. Perhaps this means that you are ready to take the next step in your work with clients: creating and/or helping them create safe, comfortable space that comes from the heart and imagination, even if the surroundings are less than ideal.


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