Healing Environments

Healing environments as it relates to Interior Design is so much more than just creating a beautiful well-designed interior. Healing environments continue to be redefined with many new qualities including but not limited to safety, security, accessibility, sustainable green design and evidence-based design.

healing room

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Evidence-based design is analogous to evidence-based medicine. This is the process of making design decisions based on the best available research.  Such as there is evidence which shows that patients who share the same room have an increased risk of medical errors, incorrect medication and cross contamination (Coalition for Health Research, 2004).

Healing environments are more than just furniture and space planning and accessibility, it also involves;

  • sight
  • healing sounds including music therapy
  • laughter
  • plants
  • water features
  • healing touch
  • aromatherapy
  • healing colors
  • stress reducers
  • deep REM sleep
  • lighting
  • eliminate or reduce toxins and VOC’s
  • positive human interaction
  • prayer and meditation
  • love and forgiveness
  • animal interaction or therapy
  • exercise, movement, and therapy
  • good medical care
  • nutrition
  • past personal experiences
  • patient-driven care
  • location of the healing environment

All these factors can have a positive or negative impact on healing.

Hope, spiritual healing, and faith
Even with all these things in place without hope, there is no healing. Hope is what allows us to go on in the most difficult of situations. If you take away hope there is nothing left to live for. I have known people who were given 15 months to live and no hope and they died 15 months later and others that had hope because they went to Alternative Medical Practitioners, made diet and lifestyle changes like myself and has had successful outcomes.

I went to many doctors for years complaining of a long list of symptom’s the main ones were being so tired throughout the day having no energy and then not being able to go to sleep at night and body aches and pain. I asked if it could be my hormones, after all, I was in my late 40’s, and I was told no, and that they were normal. After many tests, they told me I had nodules in my spleen that was lymphoma. I told the Doctors that I had switched to a whole foods plant based diet and I was juicing and starting to feel a little better. He said it was too late for that. At the first oncologist/hematologist appointment, I told the Doctor that I would not remove my spleen, or do radiation or chemotherapy. I agreed to scans of the spleen to be sure it was not growing (It was not) and continued my diet.

After a year of going from one Doctor to another with no help, I ended up at an alternative medicine doctor that specialized in nutrition and bio-identical hormone replacement. And found out my adrenal gland was not producing enough cortisol (the cause of my symptoms). And after being placed on bio-identical hormones and vitamin supplements I began to feel better, have more energy. And years later my final scan of my spleen it showed it was clear of the nodules.

Since the Adrenal gland is affected by stress, the alternative medical Doctor recommended I make changes to reduce stress and handle stress better. I left my stressful job and opened my own business where I had less stress and worked fewer hours and had more time for family, friends, and fun. More time for exercise, church and prayer and meditation. I created a garden as part of my healing environment.

garden 1

If we believe only what just traditional medicine tells us about health and healing based only on science, then there is no hope, but if you have faith in what is not seen or known to science…and you rely on faith you have hope.

Personal experience:
In 2010 my daughter Joran was in a tragic auto accident when her life and all who knew and loved her was changed forever. She was on her way home from work at 5:30 in the afternoon making a left-hand turn when her car was t-boned by an SUV, unrestrained she flew across the car hitting her head on the windshield. She had multiple injuries including her femur bone in her leg shattering, all secondary to a Traumatic brain injury or TBI which was the worst of all her injuries.

She also suffered a hemorrhagic stroke or a brain bleed as it sometimes called which caused more damage to her brain. She also had a downward gaze which meant she had fluid on the brain or Hydrocephalus and they put in a VP shunt to drain off the fluid. She contacted MRSA and Pseudomonas two antibiotic resistant bacteria’s, which went into sepsis that caused damage thought her body including the brain. It was as if everything was stacked against her survival accept her youth and a mother’s hope and faith that she would survive and recover.

I stayed with her at Shepard Center in Atlanta GA. One of the best TBI rehab centers in the country. At first, I slept on a cot in her bathroom and when they moved her to a smaller room that would not fit the cot, I moved the cot to the rehab room to sleep every night. And while I was there I wondered how anyone could heal in an institutional environment. All the lights and noise at night and nurses going in and out of the room at all hours of the night made it impossible to get a full deep restful sleep needed to heal.

After three months and fighting (MRSA) methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus infection, she was not responding to their coma stimulation treatment and advancing to a Glasgow coma level and following simple commands. They gave me two choices either they could send her to a nursing home where she could get palliative care but no rehabilitation and wait and see if she comes out of what they called a persistent vegetative state or bring her home and I could take care of her there.

Studies have shown that when comparing home environments verses instructional environments, that the home is in most situations the best healing environment. I knew she would have no chance at recovery if I put her in a nursing home so I brought her home. In the home environment, she made progress that even amazed healthcare professionals and her Doctors. A once hopeless case had hope.

I began my healing routine of playing healing music, sitting her up and doing what I called mommy-exercises and healing touch were just some of the things I did to stimulate her to heal. I also took her off the hospital liquid food that was on a continuous feed through her feeding tube and started giving her homemade bolus feeding out of organic fruits and vegetables. Right away she began to improve. We also incorporated a handicap accessible pool with water feature into her healing environment.
While in the hospital she contracted MRSA and pseudomonas two life-threatening antibiotic resistant bacteria’s, which went into sepsis that caused damage thought her body including the brain. In hospitals and healthcare facilities there is a greater chance or cross contamination between patients. One theory of why patients are more susceptible to MRSA infection is that their vitamin D levels go down by 50% because they are not being exposed to sunlight and or patients are admitted with low levels. (Springer 2015) Many hospitals and rehab centers are designing and incorporating healing gardens that patients and families can visit while staying there and get much-needed sun and fresh air. Shepard Center in Atlanta GA has one called the Garden of Hope.

garden with bench 2

While I feel the home environment is the best healing environment it is not always the case and possible in all situations. So the need for health care facilities to incorporate safe healthy healing environments is so important to positive patient outcomes.

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Katheryn de Wolfe-Walker is a licensed Interior Designer ID# 0000230, since 1989, residing in Palm Beach, Florida, she specializes in green, healing environments, handicap accessible design, and she is also a speaker and writer. She can be reached at 561-364-0074  to make an appointment for a free design consultation about your current or upcoming design project.

 Visit her website at www.dewolfeinteriors.com, follow us on www.Houzz.com, Instagram or like us on Facebook.

Sources and references:
1. Healing Environments, what’s The Proof? By Barbara Huelat, 2007

2. University of Minnesota, Taking care of Your Health & Wellbeing, May 2012

3. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, http://www.cpsc.gov

4. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, http://www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/sbs.html

5. Thomason j, et al. the association between vitamin D deficiency and methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus infection. Springer 2015 July 4

6. Self-Healing with Sound & Music , Andrew Weil, MD & Ki Arem 2004

10 thoughts on “Healing Environments

  1. Katheryn is amazing. She can transform your home into a place of relaxation. She can create a healing environment that can help you to maintain a healthy mind, body and spirit, or restore and replenish you when you have been affected by disease, trauma, or just everyday stress. Her knowledge of nutritional and environmental healing combined with her background in interior design are one of a kind.

  2. Katheryn,

    Thank you for taking the time to start this blog. It’s beautiful and informative.

  3. Greetings! Very helpful advice within this post!

    It’s the little changes that produce the greatest
    changes. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Hello there! This article could not be written any better!
    Going through this article reminds me of my previous roommate!
    He constantly kept talking about this. I am going to forward this article to him.
    Pretty sure he’s going to have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!

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