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A Calming Influence

Jun 30, 2022

St. Coletta's creates warm, welcoming space for one-on-one therapy

Getting someone to relax and open up in a one-on-one therapy session is always a challenge – especially in a clinical setting.

So when St. Coletta’s of Illinois Director of Psychology Lauren Mock was given $7,000 in grant money to improve her department, she knew exactly how to spend it.

She converted two cold, sterile therapy rooms into welcoming spaces with comfortable furniture, soft lighting and a variety of board games, art supplies and coloring books to divert attention.

“It’s easier to talk (to clients) when they’re doing something with their hands,” explained Mock. “It helps calm them; it helps them talk about what’s wrong.”

Founded by the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi in 1949, St. Coletta’s of Illinois offers a variety of programs and services for the developmentally disabled, including a school; community day services program with a vocational training component; and group homes, which offer 24-hour supervision with cooking assistance, cleaning assistance, life skills training, clinical supports and evening/weekend activities.

More than 300 individuals from the south and southwest suburbs rely on the nonprofit’s programs and continuum of care, including students from 19 school districts.

Before Mock revamped St. Coletta’s clinical therapy rooms, participants from the organization’s residential and vocational programs were ushered to a small, white room with a table and two chairs to talk whenever they were having a bad day.

“It was not calming,” recalled Mock. Fluorescent lights glared from the ceiling, often exasperating the problem for those in sensory overload.

One of the first things Mock did was to order cloth coverings for the fluorescent lights. Not only do they soften the glare but create the illusion of looking through a skylight. Participants now see what appears to be a calm, blue sky with soft, white clouds when they look up.

The walls of each therapy room are no longer white. One room is a cheerful yellow with coordinating blue and yellow chairs and gray sofa. The other room is a soothing lavender with cream, gray and blue chairs with another gray sofa.

A coffee table, credenza and inspirational artwork make each room feel more like a cozy living room than a clinical therapy room. Each room is stocked with a variety of games, art supplies and journaling tools for clients to choose from when meeting with a clinical therapist.

There’s even a supply of nail polish and nail polish remover for those who want to paint their nails while talking with their therapist about sensitive issues, such as intimacy and relationships.

Mock and her team of three other clinical therapists use the rooms regularly. Each therapist manages a caseload of 30 to 40 clients from St. Coletta’s residential and vocational programs. The clients, all adults, have all been diagnosed with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The therapists provide weekly counseling sessions for each client; some clients are seen daily as services are based on need. They’ll discuss everything from conflict resolution and anger management to dating skills and social skills.

A grant from Franciscan Health that enabled St. Coletta’s to create the two therapeutic spaces for talking. Mock recruited her dad to help hang artwork and rearrange the rooms while she put the furniture together. St. Coletta’s maintenance staff painted the rooms.

The therapeutic spaces have been a hit with therapists and clients since they opened in March.

“Now, everyone wants to go into the rooms,” said Mock. “When they see me, it’s not ‘How are you.’ It’s ‘Can we go to those rooms?’ ”

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