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Creating a Healing Environment

Chapter 14: Creating a Healing Environment

Tools for Relationships

By: James J. Messina, Ph.D.


What is a healing environment?

A healing environment is one in which:

  • People are encouraged to get better and bring themselves to a state of good health.
  • A person is encouraged to change and grow.
  • Members make a decision to cease blaming one another for problems; they decide to support one another's changing and growing so as to mediate problems.
  • A person with a problem can expect to receive no acrimony, disparagement, rejection, resentment or revenge; but rather receive support, understanding, caring and encouragement.
  • All parties have made a commitment to one another to help survive a current crisis in order to flourish.
  • Human error is allowed without fear of being condemned, punished, abused, or banished.
  • Courage and bravery are encouraged; no problem is seen as too big to be overcome.
  • Unresolved anger, hostility, and resentment is set aside; in their place is forgiveness for all wrongs (past and present) with a commitment to forget and never bring them up again.
  • All parties share unconditional love; no one is required to meet certain conditions or standards in order to be loved.
  • People with problems are not condemned and thought of as bad or wrong but are seen as being sick or ill.


How does a healing environment feel?

You know you have encountered a healing environment when you have found a place where people:

  • Show respect to one another.
  • Are free to show physical affection.
  • Use supportive language and messages with one another.
  • Are willing to confront their disagreements with open, honest communication.
  • Feel they are among equals.
  • Have no power struggles for emotional control of the environment.
  • Play neither the role of victim nor that of martyr.
  • Feel they have a chance to reform or change.
  • Can receive critical feedback without becoming defensive or jumpy.
  • Seek out open, direct feedback about their personal functioning and performance.
  • Are able to bury the hatchet about past abuses or hurts.
  • Are developing a strong spiritual focus, allowing God to be an instrument in their lives.
  • Are encouraged to admit their feelings of  fear, anxiety, depression.
  • Are supported as they explore their past lives and families for the roots of their dysfunctional behavior.
  • Trust one another enough to admit their problems, concerns, faults, and feelings.
  • Feel secure, cared for, and accepted.
  • Are willing to be vulnerable to growth.
  • Fear no retribution or condemnation for mistakes, shortcomings, or backsliding (past or current).
  • Are encouraged to grow in self-esteem.
  • Give love and receive love unconditionally.

What obstacles to creating a healing environment exist?

Even if you have a desire to create a healing environment, you or the others in the environment may be unable to do so because of:

  • an inability to forgive and forget
  • an unwillingness to accept personal responsibility or to accept the consequences for one's actions
  • an unwillingness to admit to personal mistakes, failures, faults, or errors
  • an inability to let go of anger and hostility over past hurts and pain
  • a fear of backsliding, of being hurt again, of being taken advantage of and/or losing more in the long run
  • an inability to understand the need for forgiveness and forgetting; being unwilling to do so
  • confusion over what is going on and inability to see the changes taking place
  • a lack of abstract thinking skills to deal with the problems, looking at each element of the problem literally rather than objectively
  • an unwillingness to accept apologies and the admission of wrongdoing by others
  • a stubborn holding to the idea that my way of doing things and no other way will do
  • name calling, belittling, ignoring, condemning and harassing of others
  • a lack of belief in others' generosity, good will, and offers of cooperation; lack of trust
  • severe depression or other mental health problems so debilitating that participation in a healthy give-and-take is impossible
  • a lack of commitment to the others in the environment
  • an inability to accept the elements of your environment that don't fit into fantasies or idealized expectations of the way things should be
  • a lack of belief in one's ability to meet the challenge to change and grow.
  • fear of taking a risk or of accepting change
  • fear of failure or fear of success
  • preferring to be a martyr rather than a healer, a caretaker rather than a nurturer
  • A lack of communications skills including an inability to:
        listen to feelings
        respond to others at a feelings level
        read the nonverbal communications of others
        solve problems verbally


What new beliefs will help to establish a healing environment?

  • I may be hurt again, but the risk is worth it.
  • It is not always easy to forgive and forget the past hurt and pain, and it may happen again, but if I don't let go of the past I won't be able to live the present or future to its fullest.
  • I am worth it.
  • I deserve a chance to heal in this environment.
  • I have nothing to gain by holding on to my grudge.
  • I've made mistakes in the past, too. It takes all parties involved to make the problems in relationships.
  • Listen to feelings and lead with your feelings.
  • Give reformations a chance to take hold!
  • Let go and let God!
  • Give the other person a chance to say, I'm sorry.
  • Be aware of positive changes; reward and reinforce them.
  • Catch the other person being good.
  • Laugh and let the others see your smile and sense of humor.
  • Have fun and play; try not to be so serious all of the time!
  • Learn to laugh at your own foibles and idiosyncracies.
  • Tune into the little child in yourself and communicate with the little child in another.
  • Use the illness or sickness model to describe your problems, rather than the morality (black or white absolutes) model.
  • Accept a yes when you are given it, and learn to say thank you with no qualifications.
  • Accept others for who they are rather than how you would like them to be.
  • Use humility, patience, generosity, and honesty as tools in the healing process.

When is a healing environment what the doctor ordered?

If any of the following problems exist in your environment, a prescription of healing is ordered for the return of health and vitality. Problem environments exist where the member(s):

  • Come from high stress or dysfunctional family backgrounds.
  • Have an addictive problem with alcohol, drugs, food, sex, gambling, money, shopping, etc.
  • Have rigid beliefs in the religious, political, or social arenas.
  • Are workaholic, perfectionistic, or obsessively compulsive in getting things done.
  • Have been unfaithful to the other(s).
  • Do not fulfill the fantasy expectations of the other(s).
  • Have a permanent commitment to a relationship in which the parties are neither growing nor being nurtured.
  • Are rigid fundamentalists who hold to absolute, right or wrong beliefs.
  • Were condemned as bad or wrong for troubled behavior in the past rather than being referred to as sick or ill.
  • Have not been allowed to think or act independently and have lost all sense of personal autonomy.
  • Are withdrawn, silent, and unable to deal with personal problems.
  • Have moved out and have nothing to gain from going back into the sick setting to clear things up. Since the former environment members are sick and not willing to listen to the enlightened ideas of how to straighten things out, time is better spent working on a healing environment in your newly established environment.
  • Have decided the best course of action is to divorce or separate for the welfare of all concerned and have gone on to establish a new, personal environment.
  • Are immobilized by blaming, bickering, fighting, arguing, yelling, bitching, nagging, threatening, name calling, belittling, and other negative behavior.
  • Are troubled, refuse to admit to personal problems and remain unwilling to get help for the problems. The other members need to draw together to create a healing environment even if it means excluding the troubled member from the environment after persistent, conscientious efforts to get help have been offered.
  • Are troubled and return to the environment from participation in rehabilitation after getting care for their acute problems.
  • Are in need of ongoing peer support programming, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, or ALANON (for family members of alcoholics), and the others in the environment encourage such participation.
  • Admit to contributing to the conflict in the environment, and ask for support to continue working on growth and change.
  • Personal rights are ignored.
  • Desire change but feel stuck or immobilized.

What steps would create a healing environment?


Step 1: Before you can create a healing environment you need to identify why you need one. Answer the following questions in your journal:

  • What problems in your life bother you greatly?
  • In which environment (work, home, school, community) do these problems exist?
  • With whom are you having these problems in the specific environment(s)?
  • Are the people in your problem environment willing to work with you on these problems? How?
  • If they are not willing to work with you, are you willing to stay in the environment with these people? If yes, why? If no, why not?


Step 2: If the people with whom you are having problems are willing to work with you, you have the elements necessary to begin creation of a healing environment. Answer the next questions in your journal with these people:

  • Why do we need a healing environment in order to address our problems?
  • What healing behavior need(s) to be developed in order to address our problems?
  • What obstacles exist to our creating a healing environment?
  • What new beliefs need to be developed to have a healing environment?
  • What is in our problem or in our environment specifically that will benefit from a healing approach?


Step 3: Now that you have identified the need for a healing environment, you can proceed together to develop an action plan for maintaining a healing environment. Record this plan in your journal.

Healing environment action plan

We agree to the following healing environment action plan:

Our problem is:

The solution(s) to it include:

We will treat each other with the following healing behavior:

We will seek the following outside help for our problems:

We will handle all setbacks, relapses, or backsliding in the following way(s):

We will assess our progress at regular intervals. Date of evaluation of or plan:

We will revise our action plan, create a new one, or continue with the present plan on the evaluation date.

We agree that the plan will be deemed successful when we accomplish the following:

We hereby commit to the above healing environment action plan.

(Then you both sign this agreement with your Signatures and date it)


Step 4:  If you fail to create a healing environment after the action plan has been in operation for a year or more, return to Step 1 and begin again. Get outside, objective help if necessary.