Book Review: Healing Spaces

Book Review by HMN Elizabeth Pass

Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-Being

by Esther M. Sternberg

Harvard University Press, 2009

If you have access to JMU libraries, you can read the book for free: Stable URL:

In some of my recent research, I ran down the rabbit hole of ecopsychology, a relatively new field focusing on the psychological processes that bond us with and alienate us from nature. This research led me to Esther Sternberg, author of the book Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-Being, a Professor of Medicine in the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson, and Research Director of the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine and Director of the University of Arizona Institute on Place, Wellbeing & Performance.

She starts Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-Being by posing an interesting idea:

“Physicians and nurses know that a patient’s sudden interest in external things is the first sign that healing has begun. But do our surroundings, in turn, have an effect on us? Can the spaces around us help us to heal?”

She proceeds to show how, through research and narrative examples, the spaces around us can either heal or harm. What I was so interested in is the idea of fluidity: that the healing that occurs in our body isn’t an all-over linear occurrence when it happens but can occur in several areas around our bodies and in several stages at the same time. More interestingly I thought, is that our perception of space and place is fluid and changes with how we perceive the physical elements, our moods, and health.

Sternberg shows that our communication with nature is more interactive, and therefore more fluid, and thus why it’s more healing.

What I like about this book is its readability and affirmation of nature’s healing abilities. What I find great about this book is that it demonstrates the fluidity of the spaces of nature, as well as everyday places around me, offering a new way to experience my environments.

– Elizabeth Pass, Cohort VI, June 2021