Ecotherapy, also known as nature therapy is the applied practice of the emergent field of ecopsychology.
Ecotherapy, in many cases, stems from the belief that people are part of the web of life and that our psyches are not isolated or separate from our environment. Ecopsychology is informed by systems theory and provides individuals with an opportunity to explore their relationship with nature—an area that may be overlooked in many other types of psychotherapy. While some professionals teach and practice ecopsychology exclusively, other mental health practitioners incorporate aspects of ecotherapy into their existing practices as we do at Wellbeing Center.
Connection with the Earth and its systems are at the core of ecotherapy. Many clinicians who practice ecotherapy believe that the Earth has a self-righting capacity which operates through complex systems of integrated balance, and that if people can harmonize with these systems, they may experience improved mental health. Personal well-being and planetary well-being, as proposed in many tenants of ecotherapy, are not separate from each other. People’s lives are therefore seen as part of a greater system of interaction.
Ecotherapy is based on the idea that people are connected to and impacted by the natural environment. A growing body of research highlights the positive benefits of connecting with nature.
The beneficial effects of nature result not only from what people see but from what they experience through other senses as well.
While direct contact with nature has many benefits, individuals need not 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.
Since ecotherapy is an umbrella term for nature-based approaches to healing, the types of interventions used are many. Some activities take place with the guidance of a therapist while others are carried out individually. Some interventions are done in groups while others require a one-on-one setting. Additionally, while some ecotherapy sessions take place within the confines of an office, an effort is often made to conduct sessions in natural settings whenever possible.
- Nature meditation: This meditation takes place in a natural setting, such as a park, and is sometimes done as a group therapy. Members of the group may identify something in nature which attracts them and then spend a few minutes contemplating how this aspect of nature relates to them and what they can learn from it. For example, an elderly person struggling with feelings of worthlessness might develop greater self-respect after meditating on how the older trees in a forest provide shelter for birds and shade for younger plants. The activity usually ends with group members sharing what they learn.
- Horticultural therapy: The use of plants and garden-related activities can be used to promote well-being. Activities may include digging soil, planting seedlings, weeding garden beds, and trimming leaves. This type of intervention may be recommended in cases of stress, burnout, and substance abuse as well as in cases of social isolation among the elderly.
- Animal-assisted therapy: In animal-assisted therapy, one or more animals is introduced into the healing process. Some studies have demonstrated that petting or playing with a dog, for example, reduces aggression and agitation in some populations.
- Physical exercise in a natural environment: This can include activities such as walking, jogging, cycling, or doing yoga in a park. These types of activities foster increased awareness of the natural world and are sometimes recommended for reducing stress, anxiety, depression, and anger.
- Involvement in conservation activities: The act of restoring or conserving the natural environment can assist in creating a sense of purpose and hopefulness. Since this activity is usually done in groups, it may also help foster a sense of belonging and connectedness while simultaneously improving one's mood.