Welcome to The Living Room at Turning Point in Skokie, IL—a place for persons in emotional distress, a safe haven for people needing immediate psychiatric care. Set up like a room in a home, with couches, a TV, soft lighting and even snacks, The Living Room is an alternative to the cold setting of a hospital emergency room, which commonly adds to the discomfort of a person in crisis.
In The Living Room, a guest (not a “patient”) receives a medical screening and then meets with a trained peer counselor, someone who has recovered from a mental illness and who offers a perspective both sympathetic and empathetic.
“Everything about The Living Room is designed to alleviate the guest’s anxiety,” says Lauren Prasek, the facility’s psychiatric registered nurse and a graduate of DePaul’s Master's Entry to Nursing Practice (MENP) program (above, seated). “We don’t wear lab coats. If a guest can’t tolerate a medical evaluation, we skip that. We don’t make guests wait to talk to someone. People in the throes of a psychiatric crisis can be frightened by the procedures and atmosphere of an emergency room. Here, they’re not afraid, and that makes it easier to provide the right care and attention.”
Two years ago, two faculty from the School of Nursing—Mona Shattell (above, right), an associate professor and the associate dean for research and faculty development in the College of Science and Health, and Barbara Harris (above, left), an assistant professor—led a research team of four MENP graduate students, including Prasek, and two Living Room staff members in a study designed to measure the success of the model in delivering better care at a lower cost.
“A place like The Living Room is very innovative—there are only a few in the United States—so our work is really on the cutting edge of what’s new and emerging in the treatment of mental illness,” Shattell says. The team designed the study; interviewed guests and staff, including peer counselors, social workers and psychologists; and analyzed the data.
“What’s going on qualitatively? What are people experiencing? Are guests leaving The Living Room in a better state? Those are the kind of questions we wanted to answer,” Harris recalls.
“The focus of The Living Room is recovery and personal growth, really. In mainstream health care, the treatment of mental or emotional disorders is too much about medicine and not enough about intuition and common sense. Is The Living Room model a better one? Our research suggests yes. More than 90 percent of the guests who participated in our study reported significantly reduced stress: They were able to manage their crises successfully, without a visit to the ER or hospitalization.”
Guests reported that they felt welcomed as “a fellow human being, not like a patient” and that the program was “a helping, not judging, zone.” The interventions at The Living Room—including being understanding, attentive and respectful; exploring coping techniques; and using a gentle, calming voice—were considered successful in resolving crises and in promoting strategies and techniques for long-term mental health management.
Now, institutions in Illinois are using the study’s findings to evaluate recovery-based, alternative treatment options for people in emotional distress. “I’ve been working with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the nation’s largest nonprofit, grassroots organization for mental health education and support, to explore alternatives like The Living Room and expand their role in the treatment of mental illness in this country,” says Shattell.
“It wasn’t until I participated in the study that I decided to become a psychiatric registered nurse,” Prasek says. “But even before that, I was seeing a huge need for mental health care across all populations—the demand is always and ever-present. A place like The Living Room could have important, positive impacts on the delivery of health care and on the 'quality of life' for many people in our communities.”