What is a healing space?

ambiance cleaning diet ears healing healing spaces indoor air lighting nose plants skin sleep stress wellness Sep 18, 2018

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." 

What are the benefits of a healing space?

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 by 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: 

  • shorter postoperative hospital stays
  • fewer negative evaluative comments from nurses
  • took fewer moderate-to-strong analgesic doses
  • had slightly lower scores for minor post-surgical complications

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, the 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:

  • anxiety
  • blood pressure
  • infections
  • injuries
  • recovery
  • reduce medication use
  • reduce pain and increased pain tolerance
  • shorten hospitalizations
  • sleep
  • stress
  • well-being

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 the length of stay, and enhancing staff recruitment, satisfaction, productivity, and retention. Companies could enjoy similar benefits.

What are the elements of healing spaces?

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 create healing spaces. 

  1. Air quality
    1. Detox sources of toxic fumes
    2. Ventilate during key times
    3. Consider air purifiers that can improve air quality
  2. Cleanliness
    1. Use a nontoxic cleaning approach
    2. Fight the dust regularly
    3. Vacuum with a HEPA filter
  3. Connection/Community
    1. Healing environments support the engagement of their occupants internally and interpersonally
  4. Diet
    1. Detox your diet. Developing a diet that is low in unnecessary toxic exposures helps our planet while also supporting the health of the person eating the food
    2. Nourish your diet. A diet full of nutrients that support your inherent processes for detox, healing, and restoration is helpful
  5. Light 
    1. Optimize the opportunity to integrate natural light into the design of the space to create sun-filled rooms
    2. Minimize unnecessary exposures to artificial light, especially ones that generate toxic exposures
  6. Sight
    1. Views of nature—either windows glimpses to the outside, interior or exterior gardens, aquariums, and art with a nature theme—are key.  Creating peaceful public spaces is helpful too. Integrating nature through gardens or views to gardens has been shown to reduce stress and improve the cohesion of mind, body, and spirit. 
    2. Artwork and sculptures
    3. Soothing colors
    4. Reduce glare from lights
    5. Personalize space with special personal items that provide comfort
    6. Natural materials, like wood, marble, and limestone
  7. Smells
    1. Detox toxic fumes
    2. Remove sources of unpleasant odors
    3. Invite pleasant smells
  8. Sounds
    1. Minimize stressful noise. If certain activities (like a nurse call station) create stressful or disruptive noise, then minimize this noise through thoughtful design
    2. Use sound-absorbing materials (like as ceiling tiles over busy workstations or public hallways)
    3. Create pleasant sounds by playing sounds of nature or soothing music
  9. Temperature
  10. Touch/Textures

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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Ruan Living simplifies a nontoxic lifestyle through its Practical Nontoxic Living podcast, free detox workshops, online D-Tox Academy, and transformative 40-Day Home Detox. It aims to help you avoid toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from what you buy, own, and do— without compromising your joy and convenience. Ruan was founded by Sophia Ruan Gushée, author of the bestselling critically acclaimed book A to Z of D-Toxing: The Ultimate Guide to Reducing Your Toxic Exposures and several detox workbooks. A graduate of Brown University and Columbia Business School, Sophia has served on the Brown University School of Public Health Advisory Council and Well+Good Council. A popular nontoxic living speaker, consultant, and teacher, Sophia lives in New York City with her husband and three daughters. Her passion for empowering others to enjoy nontoxic living began with the birth of her first daughter in 2007. Everything she creates is a love letter to her children and for the healthiest, brightest future possible. You can learn more here: Sophia’s Impact.


This article is for informational purposes only. This information is provided “as is” without warranty.

It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. We do not offer medical advice, course of treatment, diagnosis, or any other opinion on your conditions or treatment options. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Ruan Living.

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