Nature-Based Therapy

Nature-Based Therapy

Falling into sync with nature’s rhythms and ways is profoundly healing

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How can nature-based therapy nourish you?

Nature-based therapy was once unnecessary. In 2007, our humanity reached a new milestone with over half the world’s population living in urban areas, a percentage predicted to grow to two thirds of us by the year 2050.[1] Whilst living standards tend to be higher in urban areas, much has been lost.  This is coupled with a decreasing amount of time being spent outdoors by both children and adults.[2]

All living creatures, including humans, have developed complex bodies and minds in evolutionary response to the daily and seasonal rhythms of this world. Urbanisation, as a relatively recent phenomena, has placed strains upon us all as we are only just beginning to identify. The term ‘nature deficit disorder’, coined by Richard Louv in 2005[3], speaks of the human costs of alienation from nature including a diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, conditions of obesity, and higher rates of emotional and physical illnesses. Research also suggests that being nature-deficit weakens ecological literacy and stewardship of the natural world and that this poses the huge threat to nature that we are currently experiencing.[4]

Finding our way back out into the woods, waters and air has been proven to have countless benefits[5],[6]. Immersing ourselves in the natural world has benefits for our own health and wellness, but wellness doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Awakening to the reciprocal relationship between ourselves and nature, and understanding the rich benefits of caring beyond the human community, ensures a well world.

Benefits of nature-based therapy

Connection to the natural environment can be done in one’s own backyard. Of course, the more natural the nature we immerse ourselves in, the better. We all know subjectively that sun, water, wind, fresh air, trees and earth make us feel more alive. The good news is that research also backs this up.

Protecting us from chronic diseases[2], fortifying us against emotional distress[5], and simply getting out into the sunshine[7] and under the trees can be incredibly therapeutic. Even in cases of severe mental ill health, being in the forest and led through an experiential immersion can be of benefit[8]. Being outdoors is more likely to spur us on to physical activity[9], and with a suggested peak of benefit between two and three hundred minutes per week[10], there is plenty of reason to engage in a little nature-based therapy each day. 

This may assist in relieving symptoms related to solastalgia[24] as well as:

Anorexia, bulimia and eating disorders Anxiety Concentration, focus and problem solving Depression Fatigue, burnout and exhaustion Hormonal issues Immunity issues Insomnia and sleep disorders Loneliness Mental health Nervous system and neurological conditions Pain relief PTSD and trauma Show all

What to expect from a nature-based therapy session

There are countless ways to engage with nature, many of which are readily available by walking outside your front door and into the nearest green space.

Skilled practitioners can open doorways to deeper interactions with nature to help you more fully engage with the sentience of all living things in the present moment and enhance the rich experience of tuning into sensuous surroundings. This process of re-inhabitation, or re-engaging with particular places and ecological regions[11] is reciprocally beneficial to both one’s self and to the wider non-human community of living things.[12]

Gardening, green gyms[13] or care farming[14] all provide opportunities for constructive engagement with the more than human world, contributing to the wider ecosystem whilst becoming physically fit and involved in positive intentional communities. Nature play[15] provides outdoor play and learning to address the health and wellbeing of children and assist them in developing a positive lifelong relationship to nature.

Bush adventure therapy[16] and rewilding[17] along with foraging and bush tucker tours provide opportunities for mastery of the skills needed to survive beyond the four walls and to develop a robust reciprocal relationship with the outdoors. Dropping into the wider world of nature through experiences such as forest therapy[18], balneotherapy[19] and Connecting to Country[20] reaffirms our place in nature and our sense of purpose and connection in the wilder world. When seeking a therapist or teacher working in these fields, it is always wise to enquire what level of physical fitness might be required to participate fully.

Ecotherapy[21] is an emerging therapy that applies the principles of ecopsychology and honours the age-old connection to, and nurturing of, a reciprocal healing relationship with nature. Its benefits are increasingly being recognised by public authorities in their provision of green prescriptions[22],encouraging people to enjoy the benefits of addressing their wellbeing by communing with nature.  

Ecopsychology[23] is psychology that focuses on the emotional bond between people and the earth. More recently, it is being employed to address the deep sense of loss, grief and dread that is solastalgia[24] being experienced as we come to understand the inherent value of nature and the hopefully reversible effects of the Anthropocene[25],[26].

Of course, indigenous cultures have never forgotten the rich interweaving of humans and this planet. Coming back to our indigenous selves through Connecting to Country[20] and organisations such as Regenerating Songlines Australia[27] or through American Indian inspired Vision Questing[28] and Shamanic Healing[29] are all ways to deeply connect with the spirit of the land, seas, skies and waterways.

Nature-based therapies might be our best bet for creating a viable human-earth partnership, moving away from an egocentric approach to the world and towards an eco-centric relationship cognisant of humanity embedded as citizens of a more than human world.  

 

References

1. Urbanisation | Our World in Data

2. Time Spent Outdoors, Activity Levels, and Chronic Disease among American Adults |NCBI

3. Last Child in the Woods | Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder

4. Everyday Choices: Opportunities for Environmental Stewardship | EPA

5. Exposure to restorative environments helps restore attentional capacity | Science Direct

6. Exposure to public natural space as a protective factor for emotional well-being among young people in Canada | BMC Public Health

7. NIH | Benefits of Sunlight: A Bright Spot for Human Health

8. Benefits of Group Walking in Forests for People with Significant Mental Ill-Health | Mary Ann Liebert Publisher

9. Nature |  Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing

10. CDC | Physical Activity Prevents Chronic Disease 

11. Nature and the human soul |Bill Plotkin 

12. The Spell of the Sensuous | Coda – turning inside out

13. Start a Green Gym | TCV

14. What is Care Farming | Farmgarden

15. Nature Play | The Nature Play Mission

16. Adventure therapy | Outdoors Queensland

17. Lee Trew Rewilds Families | Dumbo Feather

18. Forest therapy | SoulAdvisor

19. Balneotherapy | SoulAdvisor

20. Connect to Country | SoulAdvisor

21. Ecotherapy – The Healing Power of Nature | The Earthbody Institute

22. How the Green Prescription Works | NZ Ministry of Health

23. What is Ecopsychology | Ecopsychology

24. Very Well Mind | What is Solastalgia

25. The Great Grief: How To Cope with Losing Our World | Common Dreams

26. Generation Dread | Britt Wray

27. Regenerating Songlines Australia | About

28. Nature Philosophy | Vision Quest 

29. Conscious Space | Shamanic Healing


Frequently asked questions

Nature-based therapy involves incorporating natural environments into therapeutic practices. Unlike traditional therapy settings, nature-based therapy utilizes outdoor spaces to enhance mental and emotional well-being.

Nature deficit disorder, a term coined by Richard Louv, refers to the negative impacts of alienation from nature. Nature-based therapy aims to counteract this by reconnecting individuals with the natural world, addressing issues like diminished senses, attention difficulties, and promoting overall wellness.

Spending time in nature has been proven to have numerous benefits for mental health. Nature-based therapy harnesses the therapeutic aspects of natural environments to reduce stress, improve mood, increase focus, and enhance overall well-being.

Nature-based therapy emphasizes the importance of ecological literacy, fostering a deeper understanding and connection to the natural world. Strengthening this relationship contributes to personal well-being and encourages environmental stewardship.

Nature-based therapy is beneficial for individuals of all ages and can address a range of issues, including stress, anxiety, depression, attention difficulties, and overall mental health concerns. It provides a holistic approach to well-being.

Nature-based therapy encourages individuals to recognize the reciprocal relationship between themselves and nature. By fostering a sense of connection and care for the natural world, therapy participants contribute to both personal wellness and environmental well-being.
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