by Sophia Ruan Gushée
An environment—like in our homes, schools, and workspaces—can be designed to support therapeutic effects. Evidence has found that many hospital patients can enjoy better recovery than those in spaces without healing elements.
And many of these healing elements can be applied to our daily lives.
Optimal Healing Environment (OHE), a term coined in 2004 by the Samueli Institute, is used to describe a healthcare approach that integrates evidence-based design practices to support the inherent healing capacity of patients, families, and their care providers.
The goal of creating a healing external space is to nurture the mind, body, and spirit to enjoy peace, rest, and vitality. Healing spaces can alleviate, and sometimes, reverse stress or harm, and foster connection of the mind, body, and spirit, support healing intention, and foster healthy relationships. According to the article "Optimal Healing Environments" published in the journal Global Advances in Health and Medicine, the Samueli Institute defines healing as "a holistic, transformative process of repair and recovery in mind, body, and spirit resulting in positive change, finding meaning, and movement towards self-realization of wholeness, regardless of the presence or absence of disease."
First, healing spaces do not pose health risks, and, second, they encourage serenity and calm. Evidence-based design has founded that well-designed healing spaces can benefit health-related outcomes.
Over the course of 30+ years, Roger Ulrich, a professor at Center for Healthcare Architecture at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, has become the most frequently cited researcher internationally in evidence-based healthcare design. His 1984 seminal paper, “View Through A Window May Influence Recovery From Surgery,” significantly affected how hospitals are designed today, inspiring many hospitals to feature gardens of various types. In his paper, he shared his finding from comparing two sets of patients—one with “tree views” and one with “wall views.” Using clinical data, he showed that patients with tree views enjoyed:
If creating an outdoor garden space and views is impractical, creating an indoor area full of nature can help. For businesses, this can promote employees' productivity, innovation, creativity, wellbeing, and satisfaction. Tech companies—like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft—have been using biophilic (nature-embracing) design. In Amazon's new downtown Seattle office, it built three glass-and-steel domes that cover a "rainforest" of more than 40,000 plants, as you can see in the video below.
In Microsoft’s Redmond, Washington campus, it built treehouses for conference rooms as you can see in the video below.
Enjoyable sounds have been found to help decrease the need for pain medication, including in children. A study by Sunitha and Santhanum Suresh showed that after surgery, pain was reduced among children who listened for 30 minutes to music or a story of their choosing, compared to the children who listened to nothing. Since children suffer more side effects from pain medication—such as trouble breathing and nausea—than adults, natural ways to reduce their need for medicine is worthwhile.
In another study conducted at an acute psychiatric clinic in the U.S., antipsychotic drugs are used "as needed" to manage patients who exhibit “aggressive and agitated” behavior. Administration of as-needed injections was 70% lower during the weeks that posters of realistic nature scenes were hung in the lounge than when the walls were blank. The hospital estimated a cost savings of over $30,000 after considering the cost of drugs and labor from doctors, nurses, and security staff.
Generally, studies on healing hospital environments found that they can help:
Hospitals have found, and companies can enjoy, lower costs associated with sick patients or employees, respectively. In well-designed therapeutic environments, costs were lowered by improving patient outcomes, reducing length of stay, and enhancing staff recruitment, satisfaction, productivity and retention. Companies could enjoy similar benefits.
How can you transform your home into a healing space? Below are ten key elements to consider addressing. Be sure to register below to stay updated on more ways to creating healing spaces.
Dr. Sternberg is a Professor of Medicine and Founding Research Director for the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona at Tucson, and author of Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-Being.
Hear more about healing spaces from Dr. Esther Sternberg in the video below.
Global Advances in Health and Medicine, "Optimal Healing Environments"
Harvard Business Review, "Better Healing from Better Hospital Design"
John Hopkins Medicine, "A Healing Environment"
Montefiore, "Creating a Healing Hospital Environment"
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