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Contact with nature can be therapeutic

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2006 - Autumn


Bringing flowers to a sick friend does more than fulfill a social convention, according to Stephen R. Kellert, Ph.D., the Tweedy/Ordway Professor of Social Ecology at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. The fact that nearly every hospitalized patient has a bedside bouquet reflects “a deep-held need” for contact with nature, said Kellert in a March talk sponsored by the Program for the Humanities in Medicine.

Studies have shown that proximity to nature, including contact with pets, can be therapeutic, said Kellert. Until humans established the first cities 5,000 years ago, survival depended solely on paying close attention to predators, weather and sources of food and water, Kellert noted, and so humans are evolutionarily programmed to feel drawn to “the organized complexity” of nature.

Kellert said the absence of nature and the sterility of most of the modern urban built environment, including hospitals, can be remedied by incorporating nature into the built environment. This, in turn, promotes both health and productivity. “It’s a design failure that we can remediate through good design.”