By Bryleigh Koepsell, Flagler College Psychology Intern
When you think of your happy place, where does your mind transport you? For most, the answers will be the beach, the mountains, the river, or the forest. Can you notice the common thread between all of these happy places? Nature. For me, my soul is the most at rest when I am in the mountains of New Mexico. Why do we feel so whole in nature? What are the benefits of nature exposure? What can we do to bring the peace of nature into our everyday lives? In this post, I will dive a little deeper into these questions.
What is Ecotherapy?
When people hear ecotherapy, they either have no idea what the person is talking about or they think that it is just another “feel good” trending pseudotherapy practice. In reality, ecotherapy is so much more than that! “Ecotherapy refers to healing and growth nurtured by healthy interaction with the earth” says ecotherapists Linda Buzzell and Craig Chalquist. In other words, through connecting with the environment, we find deeper connection within ourselves. Ecotherapy works to support and foster the human-nature connection, while also reaping the mental health benefits that nature can bestow upon us.
Types of Ecotherapy
There are many types of ecotherapy practices that help others to become their most healthy selves. Animal assisted therapy (AAT) is a guided therapy that utilizes animals, typically dogs, horses, or goats, to promote connection that can be hard for some individuals, especially those with social deficits. Green exercise therapy is a therapist-guided practice that implements exercise in places that are “green” or natural. Social and therapeutic horticulture (STH) therapy involves gardening and growing food in natural areas. Environmental conservation involves protecting and cleaning up the environment. There are many other types of ecotherapy that are used today, but my favorite is wilderness therapy; allowing someone to face challenges while in the wilderness (forests, mountains, etc.) and be guided on how to better handle the roadblocks that nature has created.
One distinction that must be made, however, is that there is a difference between ecotherapy and ecotherapeutic practices. Ecotherapy must be administered and performed by a licensed professional. Just because you feel at peace or nature feels therapeutic for you does not mean that you are engaging in ecotherapy.
Benefits of Ecotherapy
For starters, ecotherapy provides a cost-effective avenue for therapy. It also is beneficial for physical health as many ecotherapy practices are performed outside, using breathing and movement to aid the participants. Perhaps the most vital benefits are those on a mental level including stress reduction, increased cognitive functioning, reduction of depression and anxiety, and improvement of self-image and self-esteem. It can also aid social difficulties, as well as emotional-regulation troubles. As a whole, ecotherapy is beneficial for the wellbeing of both the planet and the people.
Overall, ecotherapy is a powerful tool that can be used to strengthen the human-nature connection and help one disconnect from the materialistic world. Ecotherapy is not just a trend or some self-help, feel good practices. Ecotherapy is misunderstood, under-researched, and undervalued. Hopefully, through this blog post, you learned a little more about ecotherapy, and maybe you will consider giving it some more thought. The bottom line is, through ecotherapy, the planet and the people who inhabit it will benefit tremendously.