Emotional Wellbeing

Mental Health

Self Improvement

Mandy Kloppers

Harnessing the Healing Power of Nature: Give Ecotherapy a Go!

Ecotherapy is essentially any kind of mental or physical exercise that makes nature a part of the equation. Just as in conventional therapy, the objective with ecotherapy is to benefit your mental health.

The biologist E. O Wilson said that all humans are biophiles, which means that we have an innate love of nature, and that same love of nature is what allows us to reap benefits from being in a natural environment, even in a limited way.  

If you are looking to improve your mental health, then try these six methods: 

1. Animal Therapy 

The idea of using animals in therapeutic treatment is a pretty old one, and there are multiple ways to go about it. Using animals to give yourself a mental health boost is often achieved by boosting one’s confidence. For instance, some libraries offer programs where children will read out loud to dogs as a way to practice their public speaking skills and to show them that they are capable of reading aloud to other living beings without judgement being attached to the act.  

Some studies have shown that people who already have an inclination toward animals will have a more positive response to animal therapy. Animals like dolphins, dogs, cats and guinea pigs can be used to treat depression, addiction, anxiety or schizophrenia.  

2. Meditation in the Outdoors 

Meditation has proven benefits, and it has been shown to help people sleep better, decrease their stress and boost mental abilities. There is also research to show that connecting with nature can produce feelings of happiness and contentment, and the greater the exposure to nature, the more those feelings abound.  

If you combine a connection to nature with meditation, then you get even more benefits. Meditating in nature allows the natural environment to become the focal point of the meditation and offers unique benefits to other kinds of mediation.  

3. Wilderness Therapy 

If you like camping, then you will love wilderness therapy. This basically involves staying out in the wilderness while detached from all technology. You leave your phone, tablet and other devices at home while letting your brain reboot by being in touch with nature for an extended period of time. The socialization aspect of this is important as well, since it usually involves a group of people.  

This kind of therapy usually takes three days to work, as that allows your brain time to rest. It also works better if you go as a group with a trained leader.  

4. Garden Therapy 

Community gardens are similar to this kind of therapy, and it can be invigorating and cleansing to get your hands dirty while working with plants. Doing horticulture can improve your memory, allow you to relearn skills you may have lost and work on your socialization. This is both mental and physical therapy that benefits people in numerous ways.  

There are groups that offer this kind of therapy all around the United States, such as the America Horticultural Therapy Association.  

5. Golf Therapy 

What makes golf so therapeutic is that you can play it at your own pace. It’s a sport that can be done leisurely, so no matter what kind of physical ability you have, you should be able to get something out of it. Of course, golf requires you be out in nature, and the fresh air, the socialization aspects of the game and the relaxing pace can all offer benefits. Your social skills can improve, your stress levels should decrease, and your cognition can improve just by getting away from the fast pace of the world we normally inhabit.  

If you are not used to golfing, then you’ll want to make sure you have the right equipment. Use resources such as Wired Golfers to see what kind of shoes, clubs and other equipment you should be using for maximum comfort and stress reduction. After all, you don’t want poor equipment getting in the way of the therapeutic benefits.  

6. Eco Gyms 

You can treat depression and anxiety with physical exercise in the same way you do meditation. You may have trouble getting motivated to start exercising with these kinds of mental health problems, but getting outside is a good way to get you started. Being outside takes you way from distractions like technology and helps you focus on the natural world around you. The fresh air can invigorate you and lower your stress levels.  

There are lots of outdoor exercise clubs that use exercise as a form of therapy. Joining up with one of them can improve your socialization skills as well. Local conservation groups are a good place to start too, as you can do good for the environment while spending time with people and getting some good exercise.  

While ecotherapy isn’t always the first course of action to take to treat mental health problems, it can be very effective, and more and more people are using it to deal with the issues they have. You may not be able to find an ecotherapy group in your location, but doing some of these things on your own can help too.