Therapeutic landscapes

From exceptional sites of healing to everyday assemblages of well-being

Authored by: Jessica M. Finlay

Routledge Handbook of Health Geography

Print publication date:  June  2018
Online publication date:  June  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138098046
eBook ISBN: 9781315104584
Adobe ISBN:


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The concept of therapeutic landscapes represents a valuable application to assess the relationship between health and place in a wide variety of spaces. Gesler (1993) first introduced the concept to geographers as places with “an enduring reputation for achieving physical, mental, and spiritual healing” (p. 171). By incorporating theory from cultural and human geography (e.g., sense of place, symbolic landscapes), Gesler argued that scholars could examine sites of healing in health geography. He built upon humanistic geography’s attention to individuals’ and groups’ attitudes and feelings toward the environments they inhabit, suggesting that intimate personal and emotional relationships between self and place could impact one’s health and well-being. Initial applications of therapeutic landscapes tended to focus on extraordinary destinations, such as pilgrimage sites (Gesler, 1996); parks and wildernesses (Palka, 1999); and hot springs, baths and spas (Gesler, 1998). Subsequent scholarship critiqued that, while important, these exceptional spaces are generally encountered over short time periods and are not intended to foster long-term healing (English, Wilson and Keller-Olaman, 2008). Williams’ (1999) volume expanded the concept from extraordinary locations to everyday places associated with the maintenance of health and wellness. Indeed, scholars broadened exploration to nontraditional and mundane pursuits of well-being, such as home settings (Williams, 2002), children’s summer camps (Kearns and Collins, 2000), collective gardening programs (Milligan, Gatrell and Bingley, 2004) and yoga studios (Hoyez, 2007). In the last 15 years, the concept has evolved considerably to critically study complex relationships between health and place.

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