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Legal Clinic Creates Therapeutic Environment for Veterans

Carrie Steckl earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a Minor in Gerontology from Indiana University – Bloomington in 2001. She has spent over ...Read More

Have you ever walked into a place – a store, a medical clinic, an accountant’s office – and promptly did an about-face and walked out?

Most of us have, and it’s usually because something about the place made us uncomfortable. Maybe it was too loud, or perhaps the people were unfriendly. Maybe we felt cooped up, cramped, or like we were sticking to the furniture.

These are all common responses to which many of us can relate. But did you know that there are other aspects of an environment that can be extremely distressing to people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health challenges?

These aspects may seem subtle to us, but for someone with PTSD they may mean the difference between seeking much-needed services and walking out before ever asking for help.

That’s why I was so pleased to read about the legal clinic at John Marshall Law School in Chicago. Recently renovated, its design is tailored specifically toward taming the anxieties of veterans with PTSD. The school recognized that the clinic was failing to meet the needs of veterans because its previous design was too claustrophobic, sterile, and stress-provoking by its use of colors and lighting.

The new design is quite a pleasant contrast. The clinic’s architect, Chad Harrell, implemented changes such as:

  • Green walls and wood furniture to conjure calming notions of nature or camouflage, which can promote feelings of safety
  • Frosted glass panels in place of walls to create more openness while still creating a feeling of privacy
  • An open floor plan to make it easier for vets to evaluate their surroundings
  • Acoustic insulation to reduce traffic noise (there are still large windows throughout the clinic)
  • Smoothly-graded sidewalks and wide hallways to make wheelchair use more comfortable
  • Ample natural light, which is more calming than fluorescent light
  • An absence of red in the décor (not even the school’s logo) to avoid evoking feelings of danger or anger

I applaud John Marshall Law School for developing the first non-medical facility in the Chicago area designed to pacify the symptoms of PTSD. The largest free legal clinic for veterans housed in a U.S. law school can now truly serve the needs of this brave and hurting population.


Geiger, K. (July 5, 2013). Legal clinic aims to east vets’ stress – by design. Chicago Tribune (Kindle version).

Keep Reading By Author Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.
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