As our world becomes more technologically advanced, connecting with nature becomes harder and harder. You might find yourself sifting through emails, scrolling social media, and unwinding by watching a movie. Perhaps you’ve felt stress after spending so much time with technology and turned to gardening or hiking as a way to relax.
It’s no coincidence that nature makes you feel better. Time spent outside gives you a sense of calm and boosts your mood. When you take to the outdoors in this way, you’re practicing ecotherapy – an emerging specialty within the therapy space.
Ecotherapy, also referred to as nature-based psychotherapy, is a therapeutic approach that utilizes natural settings, processes, or activities and focuses on helping you connect to the environment and nature. Through this practice of nature therapy, you connect with the ecological aspects of yourself, including how you act and how you identify. Ecotherapy can take place on various scales – personal to planetary – and in many ways – animal-assisted therapy, outdoor meditation, outdoor art, and more.
Ecopsychology is centered around the concept that people are naturally profoundly connected to the earth and the environment. When we ignore this connection and fail to spend time with nature, our mental health and overall well-being are negatively affected.
Even with this knowledge, it can be hard to bridge this gap on your own. In nature-based psychotherapy, you have the assistance of a therapist. You create a certain triangularity of relationship between the therapist, yourself, and your world. This relationship is collaborative and equalizing – with the therapist’s help, you can find ways that feel authentic for you to connect with the natural world.
The technological changes of the last few decades have accelerated our detachment from the natural world, especially in industrial cultures. Nature deficit disorder contributes to difficulties with attention, reduced use of the senses, and higher rates of physical and emotional illness.
Research shows us that even small doses of outdoor therapy can lead to serious healing. It brings us immense joy in the mind, body, and soul.
Technology is often involved in situations that bring us stress. Scrolling social media leads to comparing yourself to others. Emails bring you news of pressing work deadlines, and so on.
Nature therapy gives you an opportunity to escape these settings. As you spend time outside, you realize that your worries are small compared to the world around you, and you find yourself ruminating far less, lowering your stress levels.
For example, a 2019 ecopsychology study of patients at a psychiatric hospital benefited immensely from gardening. They reported that they experienced improvements in mood, felt calmer, gained a better understanding of their mental health, and felt a sense of belonging.
Feeling a connection to God and finding purpose are key aspects of your overall health. As is a sense of unification between your feelings, thoughts, actions, and spirit. When you feel aligned, you feel at peace.
Spending time outside via nature-based psychotherapy reminds us of the beauty and size of the earth. Perhaps it makes you think of God who created it – perhaps it simply helps you see that your day-to-day troubles are less significant than you previously thought. Either way, you see that there’s something greater at work, and you can connect to it every time you go outside.
Nature also tends to unify your inner and outer self. Thinking about nature’s beauty, feeling gratitude for it, and actively doing something outdoors can bring that key sense of alignment.
Outdoor therapy is a new specialty that I offer at Elysian Counseling. As a psychotherapist, I provide individual, family, and group therapy. I choose to take a holistic approach – we work on your overall health by caring for your mind, body, and soul.