Psychiatric emergency facilities treat patients who are deeply in crisis. They are typically suicidal, homicidal, psychotic, or unresponsive. 

The experience of being in a psych hospital can be scary and overwhelming. Staff at Einstein's Crisis Response Center in Philadelphia's Germantown neighborhood has worked to make their hospital a more serene place.

Smells like lavender, not Lysol

The first thing that's noticeably different is the smell. It just doesn't smell like a hospital — rather, hints of citrus and lavender permeate the air. Walk through a hallway painted in a cheerful, bright blue color, and there's the "Oasis Room" at the crisis center, specifically designed to help patients calm down. Two cushy massage chairs and a couch invite patients to take a seat, the lighting is soft, meditation music comes out of the speakers.

Program director and nurse manager Angela Cantwell says patients can use aroma therapy, listen to calming music, or see a spiritual advisor in the room, or even just squeeze stress balls. "To make this an environment where we can interact with people on a one-on-one basis and provide them with some support," she explained, "and provide them with some tools to reduce stress and anxiety when they are not in the crisis center."

Getting patients to calm down, to engage in converstations

Recently, she brought a teenager here who had been hospitalized for severe anxiety. "We had her sit in one of the massage chairs, reclined her back, asked her what kind of music she'd like to listen to," recalled Cantwell. "Once she was able to engage in a conversation with us, we were able to reinforce the good things that were going on in her life."

Cantwell says this teen's experience shows the room has the power to defuse tense episodes. "Instead of banging on windows or doors, or yelling, or anything else that might happen here, she was able to function and do well."

Staff collected feedback to understand how to make the hospital work better for patients. The Oasis Room is part of an overall strategy to make the facility safer and more peaceful, which staff members says is working — for example they have been able to reduce the use of restraints by over 30 percent.