The healing effects of therapies and design on the evolving soul may be immeasurable.

"Breast cancer is a diagnosis that affects the entire family. Clearly, the individual who is being treated for cancer requires not only intensive medical care but emotional and spiritual care as well," states Comprehensive Breast Care Surgeons of Holy Redeemer Health System.(1) Beth DuPree, M.D., their Medical Director, walks this talk to an extent that's made her legendary.  With a list of degrees and honors as long as her welcoming, outstretched arms, Dr. DuPree states, "Whatever it takes to help a person find healing and peace within should be an intergral part of their treatment."(2)

In her book, The Healing Consciousness: A Doctor's Journey to Healing,(3) she chronicles her own metamorphosis from traditional medical practitioner to founder of the first comprehensive breast care hospital in the U.S. The Healing Consciousness Foundation she and community members established provides funding for patients and their families to receive clinical hypnotherapy, meditation, guided visualization and other holistic therapies that deal with the mind and spirit, not just the body.

This marriage of mind-body-spirit occurs in a 12,000 square foot center (previously a furniture store) in downtown Southampton, Pennsylvania. Women can easily access the comprehensive services offered there rather than scurrying from department to department as in many larger mega-hospitals. "I was hoping that when women showed up here, they would think they'd gotten lost and ended up in a spa, "explains DePree, "I didn't want it to look doctor office-ish."(4)

From the moment you enter this Women's HealthCare Center, the decorating elements we now associate with forward-thinking healthcare interiors create a welcoming "oasis by design." (5) A lobby waterfall, walls of soothing colors, bamboo flooring and zen-like artwork(6) all provide a  sensory massage. Perhaps most unique, however, is the design of the Center's exam rooms. Each one contains a beautiful, wooden, bedroom dresser integrated in with more typical hospital storage cabinets and tables. Why not make patients feel they are ‘some place like home?'(7)

"Does your unconventional approach to medicine and design really make a difference to breast cancer patients?" I asked Dr. Dupree when interviewing her at the Center. After all, we are increasingly moving towards evidence-based medicine (EBM) and evidenced-based design (EBD) of healthcare settings—trends that insist that both medical and design interventions should be based on systematically examined research that offers proof of positive clinical outcomes.(8) Although she'd love to do a trial on patient outcomes, right now, she explained, "I'm doing what seems right for women—giving them cutting edge treatment but wrapped in love and care.(9)" She defines the ‘Healing Consciousness' she strives to engender in patients as:

. . . awareness, found deep within ourselves, where we embrace the eternal nature of our souls and release all fear of death. Embracing this awareness, we are free to experience the present moment fully. Illness and disease teach us to embrace the moment and live the journey to the fullest for no one is guaranteed tomorrow. (10)

Can we really measure the healing effects of therapies and design on the evolving soul? Clinical psychologists, for instance, know that such measurement of "success" comes with inherent methodological challenges when dealing with the individual client's emotional experience. Because it's difficult to prove that such therapies are of benefit, do we throw them out and rely only on evidence-based medicine and design? Of course not. DuPree writes, for instance:

In medical school I was taught to take a history, examine a patient and evaluate laboratory and X-ray studies. From this I would treat symptoms and work towards a cure. I . . . now . . . see the importance of listening to my patient's story in addition to their physical body and critically looking at their studies. I wasn't getting rid of my Western medical training, instead I was enhancing what I did by looking at my patients as whole beings. Sometimes the root of the real problem is very distant from the symptoms a patient presents. In order to truly find healing, all aspects of the mind, body and spirit need to be evaluated." (11)

Similarly when it comes to healthcare, it's important that the scientific tale alone doesn't wag the dogged efforts of doctors and healthcare designers who view their practices from the widest possible perspective of human experience. Luckily, EBD "thoughtfully recommends a balance" of both quantitative and qualitative methods that may be "the strongest takeaway for designers." (12). As with medical miracles that cannot always logically be explained, Dr. DuPree points out that even Albert Einstein believed, "Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind." (13)_________________________________________________________________

(1) www.comprehensivebreastcare.com
(2) http://www.comprehensivebreastcare.com/physicians/dupree
(3) Beth Baughman DuPree, M.D. The Healing Consciousness: A Doctor's Journey to Healing (Boulder: WovenWord Press, 2008.)
(4) Interview with Toby Israel, Feb. 17, 2012.
(5) www.oasisbydesign.net
(6) Some artwork at the Center is hung on the ceiling for women to view while lying down on an exam table.
(7) Toby Israel, Some Place Like Home: Using Design Psychology to Create Ideal Places. (Chichester: Wiley-Academy, 2003.)
(8) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evidence-based_design For more on evidence-based design see The Center for Health Design http://www.healthdesign.org/
(9) Interview with Toby Israel, Feb. 17, 2012.
(10) DuPree,The Healing Consciousness, p. 7.
(11) Ibid., p.86.
(12) Bob Tannen, "Designers, Take a Look at Evidence-Based Design for Healthcare." Fast Company, (Oct. 23, 2009). Explaining the need for a balance of research methodologies, Tannen also comments, "Objective, quantitative methods, such as controlled laboratory studies or surveys, also tend to be the most removed from the actual design context. They provide scientific credibility, but may not account for the specifics of the particular situation. On the other hand, interviews and ethnographic observation - - while qualitative-- can be performed contextually, and provide deeper detail and relevance, albeit with less scientific rigor."
(13) DuPree, The Healing Consciousness, p.156.

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