Have you ever heard the words “ecotherapy”, “nature therapy”, or “green therapy”, and wondered what they all actually mean and how they might be helpful? They are all terms that describe the process of bringing aspects of the natural world into a therapy session.
As you can imagine, living in our modern, technology-obsessed society provides limited opportunities to unplug and really connect to yourself and the natural world. Ecotherapy can help people just like you find this connection. This has been proven to reduce stress and burnout, as well as improve mood and cognition, and decrease anxiety.
Our Relationship to Nature
While ecotherapy is a growing field in the world of therapy, the idea that our relationship with the natural world is important to our well-being has been around since ancient times. Prior to industrialization, we were much more reliant on this connection to the natural world. In part, because our lives were so deeply intertwined with the natural rhythms, cycles, and seasons of nature.
In the past, you couldn’t go into a fluorescent-lit grocery store and stock your kitchen by pulling food off the shelf. You had to grow and cultivate everything to sustain yourself and your family. While modern-day convenience has its benefits, this disconnection has undoubtedly had an impact on our mental health.
As a counselor in training, what stands out to me the most with clients that I see is that we have actually forgotten that we are a part of nature, not apart from nature. Nature is not something you necessarily need to go out into the woods to “find”, it is right here in this very breath, in this beating heart, in your relationship to everything around you.
In my work with clients, I incorporate ecotherapy practices that help my clients reconnect to themselves and the world around them. This often leads to mental health benefits such as reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well as feeling less stressed and overwhelmed.
So, what are some different eco-therapy practices that a therapist might use with a client?
Nature-based therapy could involve meeting with your therapist in a natural environment such as a park or walking trail. This type of setting can help you feel more comfortable and relaxed, which can deepen the therapeutic process.
Wilderness therapy can take the form of an individual or group experience in a more remote natural environment. You may receive training in primitive survival skills, and focus on building confidence and confronting self-limiting beliefs.
Animal-assisted therapy brings an animal or animals into the therapeutic process. It may take place outdoors or indoors and involve activities such as petting, grooming, walking, or feeding the animals. Animals can often reduce stress in others, and the authentic nature of animals can make it easier for you to connect with your authentic self.
Horticulture therapy involves gardening or tending to plants either outdoors or indoors. You have the opportunity to create a mindful connection with the process of planting, watering, and caring for something. Then you can watch it grow and transform.
Visualization, Guided Meditation, and Nature Symbolism
There are often times when it is not feasible to directly connect with the natural world during a therapy session. The use of visualization and guided meditation can allow you to feel a connection to the natural world even while meeting indoors.
Additionally, the therapist can bring symbols of nature into the office that may be used in the session for you to explore and connect with.
How Can Ecotherapy Benefit You?
There is a growing body of research demonstrating the mental health benefits of ecotherapy. Research has shown that spending time in nature can reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression.
Ecotherapy has also been shown to boost mood and improve cognition. Additionally, ecotherapy practices may be supportive for individuals with PTSD or those who are navigating grief after a loss. Check out more information about it here.
5 Ways to Reconnect with the Natural World
Here are five ways you can increase your connection to the natural world on your own!
Mindful nature walk: Find a park or walking trail and allow yourself to go on a walk focusing on being mindful of everything you notice around you. Tip: It can help to leave your phone or other distractions at home!
Join a community garden: Do you ever wish you were able to sink your hands in the Earth but find yourself living in an apartment without the ability to plant your own garden? Many cities have seasonal community gardens that you can join. An added benefit is that you not only connect with the natural world, you can connect with others in your community!
Volunteer at an animal shelter or sanctuary: Spending time with animals while providing a service in your community can provide a double boost for your mental health!
Forest bathing: The Japanese practice of forest bathing, known as shinrin-yoku, involves immersing oneself in a natural space, such as a forest, and mindfully slowing down to fully experience and take in the environment.
Green exercise: Moving your body outdoors can be as simple as going for a walk in a nearby park. You may experience an added benefit to practicing physical activity in a natural environment, such as reduced stress and improved mood!
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Here at Catalyss Counseling, we want to meet all of your counseling needs in the Denver area. Our supportive therapists provide depression counseling, therapy for caregiver stress, grief and loss therapy, stress management counseling, and more. We also have specialists in trauma and PTSD, women's issues, pregnancy and postpartum depression or anxiety, pregnancy loss and miscarriage, and birth trauma. For therapists, we can also provide clinical supervision! We look forward to connecting with you to help support your journey today.
Juliette Brown is a student intern and a provider for the affordable counseling program at Catalyss Counseling. She works with adults with depression, anxiety, and grief to find new ways of thinking, feeling, and acting so they can experience greater joy and authenticity in their everyday lives. Follow Catalyss Counseling on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.