Labyrinths for Healthcare: Approach with Caution

Labyrinth at St. Joseph Memorial Hospital. Photo by Clare Cooper Marcus

St. Joseph Memorial Hospital, Santa Rosa, CA. This labyrinth is appropriate for a healthcare setting since the walking route is relatively short (7-circuit); there are no overlooking windows, and vegetative screening ensures privacy; it is shaded; and a simple explanatory sign explains its use. Photo by Clare Cooper Marcus

This post might invite more invective or controversy than usual (which is usually none, so we’ll see), but it’s something important to discuss: Labyrinths are not always appropriate for healthcare gardens. When they are used, they need to be sited and designed to best benefit garden users. Clare Cooper Marcus and I discuss this issue in our book Therapeutic Landscapes: An Evidence-Based Approach to Designing Healing Gardens and Restorative Outdoor Spaces and some of the text below is excerpted from Chapter 6 (p. 78).

Please understand: I have nothing against labyrinths per se. In fact, in the right place and context, I think they are wonderful and I very much enjoy walking them. The TLN has a page on labyrinths. In our chapter on Gardens for Veterans and Active Duty Personnel, we discuss how labyrinths are used in the therapeutic process (p. 210-211).

First, what is a labyrinth?
The classical labyrinth consists of a continuous path that winds in circles into a center and out again. This basic form dates from antiquity and is intended for contemplative walking. A labyrinth is sometimes erroneously referred to as a maze, which consists of a complex system of pathways between tall hedges, with the purpose of getting people lost. The aim of a maze is playful diversion, whereas the aim of the labyrinth was, and is, to offer the user a walking path of quiet reflection. See this earlier TLN Blog post for more on the distinction between labyrinths and mazes.

Labyrinth at St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

Labyrinth at St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada


(almost) Wordless Wednesday, 8/1/12 – Fawn in labyrinth

Fawn in labyrinth. Photo by Karen Chaussabel courtesy of the Bloedel Reserve,

Fawn in labyrinth. Photo by Karen Chaussabel courtesy of the Bloedel Reserve

Karen Chaussabel took this photo of the newly installed labyrinth at the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island, WA. She said that the fawn appeared to actually be walking the path:

The labyrinth has enriched my regular visits at the Bloedel in many ways and today my experience was rather unexpected. I saw a fawn walk the labyrinth!!!!! It’s hard to put into words how beautiful and touching that was. I tried to capture this special moment and I am sending you some pictures taken from the terrace. With my gratitude for all that make this a soulful sanctuary for me.    – Karen Chaussabel

For more about the Bloedel Reserve as a restorative landscape, see this TLN Blog post by Sally Schauman, FASLA.

For more on labyrinths, visit our dedicated TLN labyrinths page, and see this TLN Blog post, “Labyrinths as healing landscapes.

Many thanks to Mark Epstein, principal of Hafs-Epstein, for passing the photos along.