Ecotherapy (aka green therapy of nature therapy) is a field of ecopsychology, consisting of practical methods designed by Theodore Roszak.
The Core of Ecotherapy
Ecotherapy is all about connecting with Earth and its natural systems. The self-righting capabilities of earth is regulated by a complex system of balance control; Majority of ecotherapy clinicians state that if people get to harmonize with these systems they would be able to improve their mental wellbeing. According to ecotherapy principles, personal health is inherently connected to planetary health and they’re basically inseparable. This could mean that human life is just a part in the great system of universal interactions.
Nature and Mental Health
The philosophy of ecotherapy indicates that people are connected to the nature, hence being impacted by it. Authors have been paying more attention to this matter recently, and based on recent studies, interacting with nature does leave positive effects on people. Terry Hartig presented a 40-minute perceptional task for participants to complete. This task was designed to induce mental exhaustion. Right after that, participants were randomly assigned to spend 40 minutes in one of the three following conditions: walking in a natural environment, walking in an urban area or sitting in a quiet room to read or listen to music of their choice. People spending time at natural atmosphere were reported to have more positive emotions and less mental fatigue compared to other treatments. According to a similar study done at Mind, a mental health charity corporation, taking some time to walk in a green area was observed to decrease depression symptoms for 71% of participants, while only 45% of people had less unpleasant feelings after walking in a shopping mall.
Beneficial effects of nature are not limited to visuals; people receive positive vibes through other senses as well. In another research, it was reported that natural elements (in this case, bird chirps and water fountain) are better at mental stress relieving than urban sounds such as traffic noises when it comes to immediate impact. A research performed at a hospital showed that patients inhaling fruit and food fragrances are less likely to fall in depression phases. Even though we’re emphasizing the importance of connecting with nature, you don’t necessarily need to spend considerable time in natural environments to receive positive impacts. According to several studies, looking outside of a window with views of the nature or just watching photographs of nature are enough to uplift one’s mood to some degrees. Roger Ulrich, a persistent researcher of this field, found out that watching pictures of natural elements and greenery is actually able to alleviate the anxiety and need for painkillers in patients who had received heart surgery. Author and researcher Rachel Kaplan indicates that employees working in an office with windows facing natural elements are generally more satisfied with their job and personal lives compared to individuals who work without such views.
Several studies show that nature has positive effects on human health, both physical and mental. According to a research, children living in buildings beside gardens and natural sources are better at concentration, delaying gratification and inhibiting impulses than children living in concrete buildings with no green scenery around. Also the symptoms of children with attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) are almost alleviated after spending some time in a natural environment; while residing indoors barely leaves positive effects on ADHD children. The very placement of plants or flowers in a work office or on your cubicle can increase productivity and creativity, reinforcing your problem solving abilities. Having said that, the presence of animals is helpful for people suffering from ADHD or Alzheimer’s disease, decreasing their aggression or agitation.
Ecotherapy Activities and Techniques
Ecotherapy is an umbrella term used for almost every nature-based healing practices and various intervention methods. Main practices can be done individually without coach, but there are also activities requiring guidance from a therapist. There are both solo and group activities you can practice and enjoy. Even though ecotherapy practices are based on connecting with nature, they can still be performed indoors if you can’t access natural elements or environment at the moment. Here are some of the most common ecotherapy practices:
Nature meditation: Generally done in groups, this therapy should be performed in a natural environment such as parks. Group members should spot something attractive among the surrounding natural elements, and let their minds concentrate on it to find out what aspect of the element impacts their life and connects them to nature. For instance, elderly people who suffer from a sense of emptiness and low self-esteem are welcome to try self-respect enhancing practices and meditations; elements such as old trees in the woods that provide habitants for insects and birds while shading younger plants are perfect for this matter.
Horticultural therapy: Plants and garden items can also be included in ecotherapy activities. Gardening practices such as planting, soil digging, weeding and preparing garden beds can help you refresh your bonds with nature. Therapists recommend this sort of interventions for elderly or adults suffering from stress, anxiety, burnout or substance abuse.
Physical exercise in a natural environment: Physical activities, from jogging and cycling to simple walking can be mood-lifting. These practices not only help you with physical health, but will increase your awareness of the surrounding nature. This in turn will alleviate mental difficulties such as anxiety, depression or anger.
Involvement in conservation activities: The satisfaction of cleaning the environment and eliminating pollutant from natural landscapes can automatically improve your mood. This activity is usually done in groups, so communication with people who are gathered to achieve the same destination can be a marvelous experience for you.
Training for Ecotherapists
Ecotherapy and ecopsychology are still considered fresh fields, hence training and licensing ecotherapists is necessary to keep the pertaining activities going on. Related areas including counseling or psychotherapy should be considered in the training process, plus every required principle and technique shall be incorporated for the practices to meet ecotherapy purposes. There are several institutes specializing in ecotherapy, offering courses with a variety of options. Naropa University and Anitoch University are two of best organizations running ecopsychological courses as a part of the main curriculum. Another perfect example is JFK University in San Francisco, which offers a wide variety of year-long ecotherapy courses with valid certifications. These activities are available in group forms, also couple and individual courses or community practices.
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