The Healing Power of Nature Therapy
Ever wondered why you suddenly feel so calm whenever you are in nature? Be it at the park when you are having your Sunday picnic, by a waterfall, hiking or even after a camping trip? Well, that’s the healing power of nature. Whether you are consciously aware of it or not, nature has a way of relaxing and dare I say even healing you. Turns out there’s a name for this kind of healing and it’s called Nature therapy or Ecotherapy. The website WebMD describes nature therapy as “the practice of being in nature to boost growth and healing especially mental health”.
As someone with a background in Psychology, and one who has been through therapy, I have always been keen to figure out other ways therapy can be conducted without necessarily sticking to a typical in-clinic session. Although I’m currently not a practicing therapist, my passion for mental health is what drives me to research various psychology-related topics. I consider myself a very outdoorsy person and spending time in nature has always been the quickest way for me to de-stress, long before I was even aware of the whole concept of nature therapy. Thus, you can imagine my excitement researching this topic to further understand if there is any connection between the outdoors and mental health.
What comes into mind when you think of a therapy session? If you have never had the opportunity to see a therapist, I am guessing you now have the image of a clinic-like room with a cosy sofa and a therapist in glasses and a tablet asking you how you are feeling after every sentence. While this is not too far off from what to expect, I am here to let you know that this is not the only way to get things off your chest.
Ecotherapy is just like having your regular therapy sessions but the key difference is that you are having your sessions outdoors. In a nutshell, nature therapy essentially involves:
The outdoors: A park, farm, forest or even a garden
Experiencing or working in nature, through activities such as stargazing, enjoying the views on a walk, cycling through a forest, gardening or farming
Nature therapy programs can include different kinds of activities. Here are examples of the different types of Ecotherapy.
1. Forest Bathing
Forest bathing is also known as shinrin-yoku which loosely translates to “taking in the forest”. This concept immerged in the 1980s in Japan as a mindfulness practice that involves consciously taking a walk in the woods and being totally immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of the forest. What initially started in Japan as an antidote to the tech-boom burnout has now turned into evidence-based wellness practice providing the science to support the fact that spending time in nature is healing.
Some of the documented benefits of forest bathing according to the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy include a decrease in the levels of the stress hormone cortisol and in turn relaxing your mind while putting you in a positive mood, improving your mental performance, and creativity. Forest bathing has also been known to lower blood pressure, boost the immune system, and accelerate recovery from illness, as highlighted in an article published at the Yale School of the Environment.
This is a welcoming idea to someone with a busy mind and quite frankly, something I definitely need to try soon. If you are curious about how to get started, simply start by searching for a nature and forest therapist in your area.
2. Wilderness & Adventure Therapy
While forest bathing can be done successfully either in a private or group setting, wilderness and adventure therapy works best in a group setting. This form of therapy involves spending time outdoors in activities such as rafting, rock climbing and hiking as a means of addressing behavioral and mental health issues as well as empowering the participants. Wilderness and adventure therapy utilizes aspects of psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and occupational therapy. This approach is primarily geared towards teens and young adults.
3. Walk and Talk Therapy
Typically conducted in parks, nature trails or urban green spaces by a professional therapist; “walk & talk” therapy is an approach that uses the therapeutic qualities of nature and movement, infusing the benefits of fresh air and exercise into a therapy session. Some professionals have found their clients to be more at ease in nature, “There’s something hugely freeing about being in open space and some people go deeper far sooner than they would do in a room,” says Psychotherapist and founder of the Nature Therapy School Beth Collier.
So, do you need a nature prescription? Although the three main forms of nature therapy highlighted above are usually conducted with the help of a professional therapist, this doesn’t mean that you cannot access the healing power of nature on your own. There are other forms of Ecotherapy such as outdoor yoga & meditation that you can easily do on your own and bring into your day to day life as a way to reduce stress.
While direct contact with nature has many benefits, you don’t need to spend time in a green environment to experience the positive effects of nature. Several studies have found that a mere glimpse of nature from a window or even photographs of nature can improve people’s overall mood, mental health, and life satisfaction.
Next time you are feeling a little overwhelmed and perhaps you don’t have much access to the green lush outdoors, now you have a few tips you can incorporate and if you are lucky enough to have access to a park or nature trail, try and make dates with nature a regular thing for your overall wellbeing.