The Science of Healing Places – April 15 2014 Chat

Path in the Bishops Garden, at the Washington National Cathedral

Blog post by Lisa Fields

I first became interested in Esther Sternberg MD after listening to a remarkable interview by Krista Tippett’s (@kristatippett) host of On Being (@Beingtweets).

Esther“Esther Sternberg is an immunologist and a pioneer on this new frontier that’s giving rise to disciplines like neuroimmunology and environmental psychology. Architects are working with scientists to imbue the spaces we move through — the sights, sounds, and smells of them — with active healing properties. And Esther Sternberg says all of us can create surroundings and even portable sensations to manage stress and tap our brain’s own internal pharmacies.” Krista Tippett.

For more on Dr. Sternberg, click here.

I believe in evidence-based medicine and frankly it’s easier to place my trust in evidence. Dr. Sternberg is clearly a well respected medical scientist. While at the National Institutes of Health she was section chief of neuroendocrine immunology and behavior at the National Institute of Mental Health. In 2012 joined the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine as director of research.

The story of how this very traditional medical scholar and physician became the Director of Research for Integrative Medicine is based upon her personal medical journey.

Dr. Sternberg reports during a very stressful period in her life she developed inflammatory arthritis. She discovered that the brains stress center was an important factor in people becoming susceptible to arthritis. I find it fascinating that the brain and the immune system talk to each other.

Soon after discovering she had arthritis neighbors invited her to vacation with them tiny village in Crete called Lentas. During this vacation Dr. Sternberg describes in great detail how she began to feel better. This experience began to fuel her passion for the Science of Healing Places.

How places and spaces around you can change your emotions mood and either triggers a stress response or can make you happy and help you heal? These were some of the questions she focused on in hopes of creating the same experience she had while on vacation.

When we look at beautiful places there is a special spot in our brain that’s triggered. This portion of our brain that recognizes beauty is rich with endorphins. Dr. Sternberg shares when we view these beautiful places it’s like giving ourselves a shot of endorphins every time we look at a beautiful view.

When many hospitals first began they were designed for the equipment with little thought given about the patient. Many hospitals still appear as if they’re one gigantic maze with unexpected twists and turns. These confusing paths can increase our stress response.

Poor design can raise very primal fears. – CHRIS BROWN

Elements that can increase or decrease our stress response include noise, crowding, smell and light. Evidence Based Design within hospitals can decrease our stress response and enhance our ability to relax and begin to heal. While we may not have control over our physical work environment but we do in fact have the ability to visualize healing places.

We really can create places of peace not only in our real world, in our physical environment that surrounds us, but in our own mind’s eye. – ESTHER STERNBERT MD

  • T1: Do you believe our environment directly impacts the health of our body and mind?
  • T2: In an age of shrinking resources is it wise to invest in the science of healing places?
  • T3: As a HCLDR have you consciously made a choice that impacts your environment and if so have you seen results?
  • CT: What’s one thing you learned tonight that you can use to help a patient tomorrow?

Please join us Tuesday April 15th, 2014 at 8:30pm ET (GMT-5) for our weekly #hcldr tweetchat.


Krista Tippett “Esther Sternberg –The Science of Healing Places” American Public Media, St. Paul MN (October 24, 2013), accessed April 14, 2014

Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-being . (2009, March 19), accessed April 14, 2014

Emotions, the brain ad the body Esther Sternberg (2013, May 2), accessed April 14, 2014

Brown, Chris “The Health Benefits of Beautiful Design” Chris Brown Studios (November 21, 2013) accessed April 14, 2014

Image Credit


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