Healing Spaces - Creating Environments That Facilitate Trauma Recovery

March 13, 2024   •  Posted in: 

Healing Spaces: Creating Environments That Facilitate Trauma Recovery

This article explores how designing and creating a physical environment, like a calming and safe living space, can support trauma recovery. Elements such as color psychology, space optimization, and including elements of nature for a healing ambience are all discussed, as is the concept of trauma-informed care.

What is trauma?

The American Psychological Association Dictionary of Psychology defines trauma as:

“…any disturbing experience that results in significant fear, helplessness, dissociation, confusion, or other disruptive feelings intense enough to have a long-lasting negative effect on a person’s attitudes, behavior, and other aspects of functioning. Traumatic events include those caused by human behavior (e.g., rape, war, industrial accidents) as well as by nature (e.g., earthquakes) and often challenge an individual’s view of the world as a just, safe, and predictable place.”

In other words, trauma is a term for the ways we respond to deeply distressing and often life-altering experiences that can have profound psychological, emotional, and physical effects on an individual.

Trauma encompasses a wide range of events, including but not limited to physical or emotional abuse, accidents, natural disasters, combat, loss, and interpersonal violence. The impact of trauma can vary widely, but commonly leads to a state of heightened stress, anxiety, and emotional pain.

Trauma recovery, on the other hand, is the process of healing and restoration after experiencing such events. It is a journey toward rebuilding one’s sense of self, resilience, and overall well-being. Trauma recovery involves both psychological and physical aspects, as individuals work to address and overcome the lasting effects of trauma, regain a sense of safety, and find ways to reintegrate into a fulfilling and meaningful life.

This process is highly individualized, and often requires a multifaceted approach that may include therapy, support, self-care, and the creation of a healing environment to aid in the journey toward recovery.

What does ‘trauma-informed’ mean?

A trauma-informed approach is a framework and set of principles that guide organizations, institutions, and individuals in recognizing and responding to the impact of trauma on individuals’ well-being. It involves understanding how traumatic experiences can affect people and integrating this knowledge into policies, practices, and environments to create a safe and supportive space for those who have experienced trauma.

Key principles of a trauma-informed approach include:

  • Safety: Ensuring physical and emotional safety is a primary consideration. This involves creating environments where individuals feel secure and protected.
  • Choice and Control: Respecting individuals’ autonomy and decision-making, allowing them to have a sense of control over their own lives.
  • Trustworthiness: Building trust through transparent and reliable practices, fostering open communication, and honoring the individual’s voice and choices.
  • Empowerment: Empowering individuals by providing resources and support to help them heal and recover. This involves recognizing their strengths and resilience.
  • Understanding Trauma: Educating staff and stakeholders about the effects of trauma and its potential consequences to enhance empathy and informed responses.
  • Cultural Sensitivity: Recognizing and respecting the impact of cultural, historical, and social factors on the experience of trauma, and tailoring services accordingly.

A trauma-informed approach is applied across various settings, including healthcare, social services, education, and justice systems, with the goal of minimizing re-traumatization and providing a supportive and understanding environment for individuals who have experienced trauma.

Dr. Karen Treisman is a clinical psychologist, author, and trainer with expertise in trauma, attachment, and resilience. Dr Treisman’s work is centered around creating trauma-informed environments and practices sensitive to the needs of individuals who have experienced trauma. Her work typically aligns with the core principles of trauma-informed care.

Dr Treisman applies the principles of a trauma-informed approach to the physical environment in her book ‘A Treasure Box for Creating Trauma-Informed Organizations’[1].

According to Dr Treisman:

‘’The physical environment and the general feel of a place can make a big difference to people’s feelings, and the overall ambiance. It not only shapes how people feel but can also convey important messages about the services which someone might receive, and about the energy, care, and personality of a place. The building is generally the first thing people see and notice – the face of a service – so it really does count. A building can either increase or decrease our levels of stress, our arousal levels, and our mood; it can make us feel calmer, welcomed, looked after, and safer, or tense, on edge, and disorientated.”

How can designing and creating a physical environment, like a calming and safe living space, support trauma recovery?

Designing and creating a calming and safe living space can be a crucial element in supporting trauma recovery. Trauma can have a profound impact on an individual’s mental and emotional well-being, while a carefully designed environment can play a significant role in promoting healing and providing a sense of security.

Here are several ways in which a well-designed living space can support trauma recovery:

Safety and Security

A trauma survivor often experiences feelings of vulnerability and lack of safety. Creating a living space that is physically secure can help alleviate some of these concerns. This may include secure locks, alarm systems, and reinforcing doors and windows.

Comfort and Serenity

A calming environment can help reduce anxiety and stress, which are often heightened in trauma survivors. This can involve choosing soothing color schemes, comfortable furniture, and creating a clutter-free space. Soft textures, such as plush rugs or throw pillows, can add warmth and comfort.


Allowing the survivor to personalize their space can be empowering and therapeutic. They can choose colors, decorations, and furnishings that have personal significance and create a sense of ownership and control over their environment.

Natural Elements

Incorporating natural elements, such as house plants, natural lighting, or views of nature, can help create a calming atmosphere. Exposure to nature has been shown to reduce stress and improve overall well-being.

Organization and Order

Trauma survivors often struggle with a sense of chaos and disorganization. Maintaining an organized living space can help reduce this feeling and create a sense of control. Storage solutions and decluttering can be beneficial.


Providing a sense of privacy and personal space is essential for trauma survivors. Ensure they have a private place to retreat when needed, and respect their boundaries in shared living spaces.


Adequate and well-planned lighting can impact mood and well-being. Use a combination of ambient, task, and accent lighting to create a comfortable and adaptable environment.

Noise Reduction

Noise can be triggering for trauma survivors. Implement soundproofing solutions or use soft furnishings like curtains and rugs to dampen sound.

Safety Measures

Installing safety measures, such as smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and first-aid kits, can help trauma survivors feel more secure in their environment.

Healing Spaces

Designate specific areas within the living space for relaxation, meditation, or mindfulness activities. These spaces can be filled with calming elements, such as soft music, aromatherapy, or comfortable seating.

Supportive Resources

Provide access to resources such as books, videos, or tools that promote trauma recovery, mindfulness, and self-care.

Social Support

Foster a sense of community and support within the living environment, as connecting with others can be essential for healing. Create communal spaces where residents can gather and interact, if they choose to.


Allow for flexibility in the design so the space can evolve as the survivor progresses in their recovery journey.

It’s important to note the needs and preferences of trauma survivors can vary significantly. It’s crucial to involve them in the design process and consider their input and feedback.

Consulting with mental health professionals who specialize in trauma recovery can also provide valuable insights and guidance in creating a supportive living space.

Ultimately, a well-designed and safe living environment can contribute to a trauma survivor’s sense of well-being, control, and healing.

How can color psychology be used to create a physical environment that supports trauma recovery?

Color psychology is the study of how colors can impact human emotions, moods, and behaviors. When creating a physical environment to support trauma recovery, color choices can play a significant role in promoting healing and well-being.

Trauma survivors often experience heightened anxiety and stress. Soft, calming colors like pale blues[2], greens, lavender, and pastel shades can help reduce these feelings. These colors are associated with tranquility and can create a sense of serenity in the environment.

Neutral colors like beige, soft gray, and taupe can provide a sense of stability and grounding. They can also create a balanced and harmonious backdrop for other, more vibrant colors or patterns.

Warm colors like soft yellows, warm pinks, and light oranges can evoke feelings of comfort and nurture. These colors can create a sense of safety and emotional warmth.

Colors inspired by nature, such as soft browns, muted greens, and gentle earthy tones, can promote a sense of connection to the natural world. These colors can be grounding and comforting.

Consider the individual’s personal color preferences and any specific associations they have with certain colors. A trauma survivor may well find comfort in colors that hold personal meaning or positive memories.

While soft and soothing colors are generally recommended, adding a touch of contrast or accent with slightly brighter or deeper hues can create visual interest without overwhelming the space.

In shared living environments, consider allowing each trauma survivor to choose the color scheme for their own personal space within the larger environment. This gives them a sense of control and ownership over their surroundings.

Consider using colors that create a sense of transition and progression. For example, you can use a calming color in common areas before gradually introducing warmer or more vibrant colors as you move into more personal or private spaces, symbolizing the healing journey.

The way natural light interacts with colors can significantly affect the atmosphere. Maximizing natural light can enhance the positive impact of color choices.

Use art and decor that incorporates supportive colors. Artwork or decorative elements featuring soothing color palettes or natural scenes can enhance the therapeutic environment.

It’s important to remember individual preferences and responses to color can vary, so involve the trauma survivor in the decision-making process whenever possible.

Consulting with mental health professionals who are familiar with the individual’s needs and sensitivities can also provide valuable insights into the most appropriate color choices for their recovery environment.

Finally, the use of color should complement other elements of a trauma-informed design, such as safety, comfort, and privacy. When combined with these other principles, color psychology can contribute to creating a supportive and healing physical environment for trauma recovery.

How can elements of nature be used to create a physical environment that supports trauma recovery?

Incorporating elements of nature into a physical environment can be a powerful way to support trauma recovery. Nature has a calming and healing effect on many people, and this connection to the natural world can help trauma survivors feel more secure, grounded, and at ease[3].

Here are some ideas for using nature-inspired elements in a therapeutic environment:

  • Natural Light: Maximize natural light in the living space. Exposure to daylight can positively affect mood and overall well-being. Large windows and strategically placed mirrors can help amplify the effect of natural light.
  • Views of Nature: If possible, provide views of the outdoors. Whether it’s a garden, courtyard, or natural landscape, being able to see and connect with nature can have a calming influence.
  • Indoor Plants: Incorporate house plants into the design. Greenery not only adds aesthetic appeal but also contributes to improved air quality and a sense of life and vitality. Certain plants, like lavender or chamomile, can even have calming scents.
  • Natural Materials: Use natural materials in furniture and decor. Wood, stone, and natural fabrics like cotton and linen can create a sense of grounding and warmth. These materials are often more comforting and inviting than synthetic alternatives.
  • Nature-Inspired Color Palettes: Choose color schemes inspired by nature, such as earthy tones, soft blues and greens, or warm neutrals. These colors can promote relaxation and a sense of harmony with the environment.
  • Texture and Sensory Elements: Incorporate tactile elements that mimic nature, such as textured walls, natural fiber rugs, or soft, touchable fabrics. These elements can provide comfort and sensory stimulation.
  • Nature-Themed Art and Decor: Decorate the space with artwork, photographs, or decor that features nature or natural scenes. This can create a connection to the outdoors and provide a source of inspiration and tranquility.
  • Water Features: The sound of flowing water, such as a small indoor fountain or a fish tank, can have a soothing and calming effect. The presence of water can also create a sense of natural serenity.
  • Outdoor Access: If possible, design the space to provide easy access to outdoor areas, such as a garden or patio. This allows trauma survivors to spend time in the fresh air and engage with the natural world.
  • Biophilic Design: Biophilic design principles aim to create environments that incorporate elements of nature. This can include natural patterns, textures, and materials that mimic the outdoors, as well as designs that mimic natural forms and structures.
  • Healing Gardens: If the space allows, create a healing garden or outdoor area specifically designed to facilitate relaxation and reflection. This might include seating areas, walking paths, and spaces for meditation or mindfulness exercises.
  • Environmental Considerations: Ensure the physical environment is well-maintained and free from environmental stressors. This includes controlling noise, temperature, and air quality to create a more comfortable and healing space.
  • Safety and Security: While incorporating natural elements, it’s important to maintain a sense of safety and security within the environment to support the trauma survivor’s overall well-being.

By integrating these elements of nature into a trauma recovery environment, you can help create a space that promotes healing, relaxation, and a sense of connection to the world around them. Nature-inspired design can be a powerful complement to other therapeutic strategies in the trauma recovery process.
Trauma recovery at The Center • A Place of HOPE
The Center • A Place of HOPE is a well-known treatment center that offers comprehensive and holistic trauma recovery services.

Our trauma recovery program is designed to provide individuals who have experienced trauma with a supportive and healing environment.

Our client-centered approach combines evidence-based therapies, supportive communities, and personalized care to help individuals on their path to healing and recovery from trauma.

For more details about our offerings and services, contact us today.

1. Treisman, K. (2021) ‘Chapter 16: The Physical Environment’, in A treasure box for creating trauma-informed organizations: A ready-to-use resource for trauma, adversity, and culturally informed, infused, and Responsive Systems. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
2. Britton, E. et al. (2018) ‘Blue care: A systematic review of Blue Space Interventions for Health and Wellbeing’, Health Promotion International, 35(1), pp. 50–69. doi:10.1093/heapro/day103.
3. Leydecker, S. (2017) ‘Healthy Patient Rooms in hospitals: Emotional wellbeing naturally’, Architectural Design, 87(2), pp. 76–81. doi:10.1002/ad.2155.

Dr. Gregory Jantz

Pioneering Whole Person Care over thirty years ago, Dr. Gregory Jantz is an innovator in the treatment of mental health. He is a best-selling author of over 45 books, and a go-to media authority on behavioral health afflictions, appearing on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN. Dr. Jantz leads a team of world-class, licensed, and...

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