In recent years the field of healing environments research has evolved into one of many areas of interest under evidence-based design. A healing environment is one that is based on research or evidence which is used to inform design decisions. The research comes from the fields of environmental psychology, neurosciences, evolutionary biology, and psychoneuroimmunology. The common theme is the reduction of stress to ease the burden imposed by illness. It’s clear that the built environment has the potential to be a therapeutic intervention.
Connection to Nature
A large body of research indicates that humans are hardwired to appreciate and benefit from exposure to nature. Based on our evolutionary past and the landscape features that were important for survival, research shows that humans have a deep need to connect to nature and that even a brief view of a garden or interaction with a water element, for example, can have immediate physiological benefits in terms of reducing stress and anxiety.
Options and Choices
A considerable number of studies have documented that when individuals have options or choices, it reduces stress and enables them to feel more in control. A healing environment will offer as many choices and options to patients as possible in every setting whether it is an outpatient waiting room or critical care unit.
It has been well-documented that access to friends and family contributes to emotional and psychological well-being. Whether it is a social support group for breast cancer survivors or a family member sleeping overnight in a patient's room, sympathy and compassion offered by caring individuals are essential.
We are multi-sensory beings and research in the neurosciences demonstrates that various types of sensory experiences can actually be therapeutic and can boost the immune system. Certain types of music, engaging moments spent in front of an aquarium or water feature, meditation, guided imagery and visualization
– all provide diversion from pain and opportunities for developing coping skills.
Elimination of Environmental Stressors
A growing body of environmental research indicates that stressors in the built environment can add to the burden if illness. Noise is perhaps the most deleterious of these and hospital nursing units are notoriously noisy. Poor air quality and glare from direct (as opposed to indirect) light sources are other examples. In theory, much of this can be controlled by the owner and the design team working collaboratively.