Gentle First Contact

A tactfully designed patient journey and therapeutic environment to make children feel at ease for improved psychosocial therapy sessions

More Info


The Medical Psychology and Social Work department of the Wilhelmina Children´s Hospital (WKZ) helps children between 0 and 17 years old and their parents to cope with psychosocial problems caused by medical events and/or (chronic) illness. In therapeutic sessions psychologists help children to overcome their fears and develop effective coping strategies. In addition, the department monitors the development of children that have an increased risk of obstruction in their cognitive development with psychological tests. Treatment and evaluation sessions are performed in a so called 'playroom'. The current playroom does not support the psychologists in the wide range of activities they perform. The department addressed this demand in the form of this graduation project.

Research in the context provided insight into the usage of the playroom, its users and their experiences. The main problem identified for the current environment is that it does not support the psychologists in the different sessions they perform. A flexible environment is wished which can easily be changed from an atmosphere where the child is able to concentrate (stimulant free) to an atmosphere that invites the child to play (stimulant). In addition, the importance of the child feeling at ease at the start of a session became apparent. It was discovered that the journey that the child makes before he/she enters the playroom is of significant influence on this. Children that visit the department for the first time are nervous and do not feel at ease when entering the playroom for the first time. Two design directions were identified. One focusing on improving the therapeutic environment and the other on improving the journey towards this environment. This resulted into one final design 'Gentle First Contact' which consists of a tactfully designed patient journey and a master plan for a new therapeutic environment.

The master plan for a new therapeutic environment consists of a proposed design for the room and recommendations concerning colour, lightening and sound. A flexible environment is created that can be easily adapted to the different sessions that are performed and the characteristics of the child. By turning and sliding panels in the closet, the psychologist can easily and quickly change the atmosphere in the room.

In addition, a patient journey was designed to make children feel at ease at the start of their first therapy session. Several elements are designed to support the child at different moments in the patient journey: a flyer with information about the appointment, a new waiting room experience, a playful transition to the playroom and an ice breaking activity as start of the therapy session. The elements are designed in line with the new vision for WKZ in which every department is related to an animal. The animal assigned to the Medical Psychology and Social Work department is the seahorse and therefore this animal is used as connecting theme to create a gradual journey. The seahorse supports, guides and distracts the child when needed.