The more we learn about the importance of emotional well-being as it relates to good physical health, the more it seems that the hospital environment is lacking.
Hospitals are amazing places and we are very fortunate to have them. They are on the other hand not very inspiring. Stark and sterile, they don’t have a lot of soul and have many strict rules.
Sure, they are extremely good at healing our physical selves but they can be a bit lacking in helping emotional well-being. This is especially true today because we now know how important emotional well-being is to our physical health.
In Norway, however, they have taken this to heart and are exploring a workaround with young patients in mind – they have found a way to let nature help. The health benefits of spending time outside have been proven again and again, so why not let sick children have some time amongst the trees?
With this in mind, the country’s two largest hospitals, with the help of the Friluftssykehuset Foundation charity, have created Outdoor Care Retreats known as friluftssykehuset. Built in partnership with the architectural firm, Snøhetta, the spaces offer patients a welcome reprieve from the stringent treatments and isolation that often accompany long-term hospitalization.
The meaning of the word friluftssykehuset comes from the Norwegian concept of friluftsliv – the importance of spending time in nature and the word sykehus – which means hospital. The first retreat was built in a forest near the biggest Norwegian Hospital, Oslo University Hospital. The other building is close to a pond in a deciduous forest by Sørlandet Hospital Kristiansand in the South of Norway.
Although the cabin is integrated in the hospital campus, its secluded location and natural aesthetics allow it to be perceived as a place of its own. It is a place of muted magic, a place out of the ordinary that provides a generous and much needed breathing space for visitors of all ages.
“Bringing patients outside the hospital helps them relax and find the strength to get through their treatment,” says Maren Østvold Lindheim, a child psychologist from the hospital in Oslo. “Being in nature gives them the feeling of possibility: they have more energy, more hope and more creativity.”
The idea isn’t a new one. In more recent times, the Japanese government introduced the concept of shinrin yoku, or ‘forest bathing’, urging people to make use of the country’s generous wooded area for therapy.