Everyday comforting practices in psychiatric hospital environments: A design anthropology approach

Melisa Duque, Margo Annemans, Sarah Pink, Lisa Spong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Introduction: Creating a comforting environment is essential for delivering psychiatric care. While healthcare organisations explicitly implement care models and adapt the physical environment, attention to staff's implicit everyday practice is limited.
Aim: Developing a design anthropology approach tailored specifically to the research site, we examine the social and physical environment to unpack how staff integrate both—implicit comforting interventions, and the explicit measures taken by the organisation—into their everyday practices of psychiatric care.
Method: Design and sensory ethnography, using extended observations and “walking tours” were undertaken with 126 staff members. A thematic analysis was conducted on all visual and audio material.
Results: Staff's everyday implicit care practices and situated design decisions provide a comforting environment for patients, visitors and staff.
Discussion: Implicit practices combine with an explicit organisational model of care to achieve a comforting environment. The value of design anthropology to uncover these dynamics is emphasized. Comforting practice involving implicit gestures of courtesy, which are infrequently addressed within organisational models of care (e.g., Safewards), are foregrounded.
Implications for practice: Explicit models of care have clear value in generating comfort; however, psychiatric hospital care also benefits from less visible modes of delivering comfort through everyday practices. By acknowledging both explicit and implicit modes of comfort, we can better understand how care models and psychiatric cultures of care are nurtured. Continuous “small” but intentional acts of care (e.g., brief interactions in corridors and at doors) constitute a finely tuned repertoire of everyday comforting practices.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)644-655
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • comfort
  • comforting practices
  • Design anthropology
  • ethnography
  • everyday care
  • everyday design
  • hospital design

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