What is a Healing Space?
To understand the concept of healing spaces, we first need to understand the etymology of the term ‘healing’. The word healing comes from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘healen’, which means to make whole. The other way to look at it is a harmony of the mind, body, and spirit. Many people mistake healing for curing, something that is poles apart at its roots. Curing is more of dealing with fixed problems, eradicating diseases, and curing symptoms whereas healing is more of an experience. Healing environments are an organizational culture that helps patients and their families recover from the stresses imposed by illness, hospital atmospheres, medical visits, etc. A healing environment has a nurturing and therapeutic environment. Studies show that well-designed healing environments can reduce patients’ anxieties and stress, accelerate recovery, shorten hospital stays, lessen pain and promote health and well-being.
The Need for Healing Spaces
The world is rapidly urbanizing. Around 60% of the population lives in cities. By 2050, the number will further increase by 20%. City life has made people remain shut up inside homes-enclosed by walls, concrete slabs, and roofs. People are already living more in the virtual world than experiencing reality. Large cities and large societies mean increased levels of stress, pollution, poverty, etc. Major factors that have contributed to mental illness, stress levels, and feelings of discomfort are the advancement of technology, busy work schedules, a decrease in physical activities, diminishing human-nature relationships, etc.
Healing environments are physical settings that support the process of recovery or healing, relieving stress, and discomfort, gaining mental health, rejuvenation, etc. The healing process happens yet again in hospital environments that cause further stress-building since they are too compact, do not have much décor, smell, are devoid of natural views, etc. Thus, healing spaces need to change according to the needs and comfort of the current generations. What are the changes that can be brought about? What are the factors or characteristics that contribute to a good healing space?
Types of Healing Environments
To get to know the different types, let us understand the meaning of an Optimum Healing Environment beforehand. An OHE is a term coined by the Samueli Institute in 2004 used to describe a healthcare system that is designed to stimulate and support the inherent healing capacity of patients, families, and their care providers. An OHE consists of people, their behaviors, and the surrounding physical environment. An Optimum Healing Framework consists of 8 concepts with-held within the 4 environments. The internal, interpersonal, behavioral, and external environment.
The internal environment begins with the individual and his or her internal environment. It consists of personal wholeness or the healing thoughts within oneself. The interpersonal environment talks about better healing when constructive interactions between the healer and the patient happen. Behavioral environment talks about the practice of healthy lifestyles that include adequate amounts of exercise, a nutritious and balanced diet, relaxation and stress management, a balance of work and leisure, sufficient sleep, etc. Finally, the external environment should evoke a sense of serenity and calmness.
The best healing environment can be created by taking into account the design constraints of our immediate surroundings. The different elements of the internal environment are:
Light | Healing Spaces
Light affects our well-being visually, allowing our perception of space, biologically, influencing the production of hormones, and emotionally- affecting mood and overall comfort. Florence Nightingale observed in the late 1800’s that patients exposed to natural light recovered faster than those shut up in rooms. Lighting in hospitals should meet two requirements: the staff should be able to execute their activities and the environment should be satisfying for the patients. In absence of natural light, artificial lighting that mimics daylight can be done. Colored light can create a pleasant atmosphere in patients’ rooms.
What comes to your mind when we say ‘hospital’? Yes, healthcare facilities always meant shut-up, windowless rooms that were devoid of light and natural views. This would in no way aid the healing process. The more comforting and soothing the space is, the better it is for patients to recover rapidly. In recent years, design has started to implement aesthetic elements to reduce stress, and anxiety, promote health and healing, etc. Say, for example, courtyards or therapeutic healing gardens can be included within the healthcare facilities, a large glass window facing the gardens to aid natural views. Studies proved that the introduction of patients to nature or nature-themed interior designs can help in faster and complete recovery.
Little did we know that color has an actual physical effect. A variety of forms and brilliant colors are actual means of recovery for patients. Warm colors activate the nervous system and cool colors calm it down. Healing spaces must have a uniform field of view. Thus, the ceiling should be tinted in the color of the walls. Walls and floors to be soft and not over-reflective. Coral, colonial green, peach, rose, and pale gold are good options. Blue and green tones can combat glare and enhance visual contrast. This aids the acuity of the surgeon’s eyes because it complements the red tones of blood.
Shape/Form | Healing Spaces
Generally, healthcare facilities are typically large, box-like structures, with deep floor plans to make it difficult for designers to include natural light as it can only penetrate about 13 feet in a room with a 9-foot tall window. Proper building orientation is required to harness the best potentials of nature to achieve an energy-efficient design. Long corridors can be avoided.
The best way to bring nature indoors would be to create a replica of it. This can be achieved through materials/textures. Though texture has a variety of applications ranging from furnishing, wall coverings, and art installations, the most frequently discussed area would be flooring. Flooring in a medium or medium dark color and tone is preferred in healthcare settings. The floors should not be extremely light, bright, or white flooring materials that are slick, highly reflective, or create glare that has the potential for slips and falls. Carpet is a good flooring choice as it provides no glare and no risk of slipping.
In a medical setting where reassurance and calmness are not easy to come, art can act as a diversion. It can reduce aggression and uplift the environment. Pictures depicting nature act as an added advantage in healing environments. However, abstract art has the opposite effect. Pablo Picasso states that “the purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls”.
Music has significant health effects such as decreasing anxiety levels and reducing heart and respiratory rates. It can also improve the mood and enliven the healing environment. Choice and variations of music is important. However, unwanted noise or sounds within or around the setting tend to make people less engaged.
Aromas and Sensations | Healing Spaces
Healing through sensations is achieved by evoking the human senses. Textures can evoke a sense of touch. Natural sounds are believed to reduce stress, thus instigating a sense of sound. Natural aromas tend to influence the process of healing. Growing plants and cooking with fresh ingredients is a plus!
Even in the modern era, no patient wants to be treated like one. They don’t wish to have small, smelly compact rooms, have rooms devoid of nature, spend too much, etc. An atmosphere to make them forget the treatment process is all that is needed. Healing spaces like wellness retreats and spiritual healing have come to the spotlight and holidaying with good health is their motto!
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- Hfmmagazine.com. 2022. Natural elements for health care interiors. [online] Available at: <https://www.hfmmagazine.com/articles/1665-natural-elements-for-health-care-interiors> [Accessed 16 October 2022].