Maggie Mitchell of Dyer Brown & Associates

Credit: Dyer Brown & Associates

In this series, Healthcare Design asks leading healthcare design professionals, firms, and owners to tell us what has their attention and share ideas on the subject.

Maggie Mitchell is associate and senior interior designer at Atlanta- and Boston-based Dyer Brown & Associates. Here she shares the top five design trends and issues getting her attention right now, including serving the behavioral health needs of adolescent LGBTQ+ clients, using outdoor spaces for dynamic and alternative therapies, and delivering safety and comfort through design.


  1. Making LGBTQ+ patients feel welcome

Many of the most interesting advances in healthcare design are happening in the behavioral health fields. Teen and adolescent LGBTQ patients, for example, often suffer from health disparities mainly because of fears of coming out and discrimination, according to a seminal study published in the medical science journal Cureus.

These patients may experience barriers to adequate mental health treatment, when in fact they may need more attention than non-LGBTQ patients, according to a recent International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health study. Designers can help create settings that build trust and help young clients overcome their fears of seeking care. Incorporating all-gender restrooms, for example, lets these patients know they are expected, welcome, and understood.

  1. New ideas for outdoor therapy space

People think of behavioral and mental health practices as a series of therapy rooms connected by hallways. But this approach doesn’t serve today’s best treatment regimes, which have programs requiring a range of group settings and interstitial spaces. In fact, ample indoor areas to decompress and especially access to outdoor spaces are essential to successful patient outcomes, according to evidence-based design research cited by leading therapists. Those evidence-based findings support our intuition that access to daylight and views of nature are good for mental health, such as courtyards where patients are protected and safe, less likely to run, and can enjoy green grass and fresh air. Young people in treatment spend much time indoors in therapy, but it is also considered essential to positive outcomes to integrate physical exercise with outdoor treatment areas and with, for example, exercise stations available to clients, as they stimulate positive thinking and relax their mental states.

  1. Supportive environments for dynamic therapy

Another area of rapid growth and success is the use of more dynamic types of therapy for behavioral health, which can include horticulture, meditation, music, arts, and even equine and fitness components. This holistic approach is reflected in Dyer Brown’s designs for Skyland Trail, a nonprofit residential mental health treatment organization for adults and adolescents in Atlanta. The campus’ buildings and major interior spaces are built around gardens and patients have opportunities to work with their horticultural therapist in a greenhouse or various healing gardens.

  1. Balancing administration and operational needs

As a designer or architect, the key to successful behavioral healthcare design is to better understand the client’s operations and administrative needs. A huge trend we’re seeing is the reorganizing and centralizing of administrative spaces, such as merging staff offices in a single building zone. On the treatment side we need to fully reflect the flow of clients in treatment—inpatient versus outpatient—and how to best support those patients. This dual mindset—treatment and operations—informs everything from site selection to creating favorable adjacencies for homework areas, cafés, break zones, and places for parents to hang out.

  1. Patient comfort and safety

Behavioral health patients benefit from a feeling of control as well as a sense of privacy, safety, and minimized anxiety. Eased orientation so patients can easily find their way, plenty of access to controlled natural light, curated artworks, and settings for social interaction are some of the solutions to address these needs. Safety is both perceived and physical and impacts how project teams approach the built environment, including safer stairwell designs as well as thoughtful choices for hardware, fixtures, and furnishing. Other examples include antiligature hardware, “break-away” products such as shower hoses and draperies, and fixtures designed without sharp edges can protect patients from self-harm or accidents. The best ideas for furnishings are commercial grade that avoid an institutional feel.

Want to share your Top 5? Contact Managing Editor Tracey Walker at for submission instructions.