What does the concept of the healing environment bring to mind? Perhaps you are reminded of a wellness centre or a therapeutic health centre. The term ‘healing environment’ literally means a healing or restorative environment. It is a way of setting up rooms in care institutions to help people heal faster or make the situation of being ill less unpleasant.
The effect of healing environments
In the 80s, the scientist Roger Ulrich researched the effect of green environments on patients. He compared two groups of patients whose gall bladder had been removed. During the recovery period, one group had a view of a beautiful natural environment, while the other group saw only a grey brick wall. The results were evident. The group that enjoyed the green view had a shorter hospital stay and clearly used fewer painkillers.
Various research studies now show that a relationship exists between being able to see nature, e.g. plants, and health improvement. An explanation for this is that nature gives us the unconscious message that we are allowed to relax, the so-called restorative effect.
Creating healing environments
In a healing environment the focus is mainly on the use of natural elements, such as plants, daylight, fresh air and tranquillity. Moreover, an image of a natural landscape or ‘life-like’ artificial plants appears to have a similar effect on mental health.
Maggie’s Centres are beautiful examples of such healing environments. After Maggie Keswick Jencks heard in 1993 that she did not have long to live as a result of recurrent and metastatic breast cancer, she used the time that she still had left to realise her dream together with her husband Charles. That dream was to create a nice healing place for cancer patients. Maggie died in 1995 and a year later the first Maggie’s Centre was opened on the grounds of the Western General hospital in Edinburgh.
There are now 18 similar centres in England and Scotland, which have all been designed to have views of nature and with attention to light and cheerful accents that make people feel welcome and at home. Let’s hope that this is a source of inspiration for developing more green healing environments in hospitals and care institutions.