Ecotherapy is nothing new. It’s been around for hundreds and thousands of years. Some of us do it on our own. Some do it with a therapist and/or a group. Those that do it, do it every day, probably without realising it. For those that don’t, they may have simply forgotten how, and also why. Sadly, some have never experienced it at all. So, what is ecotherapy?
… a nature-based outdoor activity and/or treatment. Hundreds of years ago we would have all most likely experienced it on a daily basis. Spending time outdoors, hunting for food, sowing and reaping crops. We’d have walked wherever we needed to go, whatever the weather or time of day. That was normal life.
Compare it to today? Working and being outdoors is not as common. Few of us have to find our own food, or cultivate crops. Many don’t come into contact regularly with animals and wildlife, either due to their location or their lifestyle. Add to this the face-paced world we live in, with our social media and mobile technology making us ‘on duty’ 24/7. Relaxing and de-stressing surrounded by nature is sadly becoming rare. Yet, we’ve never needed ecotherapy more than what we do right now.
To answer ‘what is ecotherapy’ simply, it can be a community-led programme, run by therapists on farms, woodland or somewhere outdoors. Or, simply walking with your therapist rather than sitting in a therapy room. But, in its most simple form, it can just be you, enjoying nature, using all your senses to appreciate what’s around you, taking time out.
What’s so good about it?
Before we look at the benefits, here’s just three of a huge amount of studies and research into how ecotherapy helps:
- Research by the University of Essex found that 90% of a group suffering from depression felt a higher level of self-esteem after taking a walk in a country park.
- The University of Michigan found that a group of participants did 20% better with a memory test after walking amongst trees.
- A study commissioned by Natural England discovered that taking part in a nature-based activity helps people suffering from mental ill-health. It can reduce levels of anxiety, stress and depression.
Ecotherapy can clearly change how we feel. It can make us more grounded, increasing our self-esteem and improving our mood. At the same time, it decreases our feelings of anger, frustration, stress and anxiety.
If you join a group activity, it can offer more regular social contact with others. As loneliness is a huge factor in depression, this can really help. However, there are times when solitude and reflection are greatly needed, and there’s nothing better than being out in nature alone at those times.
(If you’re interested in an ecotherapy programme, check out Green Gyms to see what’s available locally. https://www.tcv.org.uk/greengym/find-green-gym)
We’re only talking about the mental health wellness here. Let’s not forget the physical benefits too. Moving around, walking, exercising, being out in the fresh air… eco therapy can improve our physical fitness, stamina and wellbeing.
Hoorah for the Shetland Islands GPs!
Here’s proof of how great ecotherapy is. Last year, GPs on the Shetland Islands began to issue nature prescriptions to their patients. The prescriptions instructed patients with chronic conditions to take strolls on beaches and moors. Imagine a world where we can heal without medication, but with nature. It’s possible!
5 ways to do ecotherapy on your own
If joining a group is not right for you, here’s 5 ways you can bring some ecotherapy into your life:
- Find somewhere nearby where you can go and connect with nature. If in the countryside, locate a favourite field, a stream, a farm which allows visitors. If in the city, find a park or a community farm. Or a communal garden. Just locate a space you can visit throughout the year.
- Bring nature into your home. Create a safe, comfortable and quiet space to sit where you can look out of your window. Try growing plants on your windowsill, or in the different rooms. Whilst at home, or even when out driving, listen to recordings of bird song, or the waves crashing against the rocks.
- If you have a garden, try growing some flowers or vegetables from seed. If you haven’t your own garden? Borrow one! Ask a neighbour if you can have a small patch of theirs, or if they would like any help in maintaining it. Even consider putting your name down for an allotment and grow your own veg and fruit.
- If you are physically able, add a daily walk to your routine. Maybe a brisk walk around the block before breakfast. Or a stroll in your lunch break. And don’t forget a wander after your evening meal, on your own or with the family.
- Hang a bird feeder outside the window if you can. Watching birds come and go, through the seasons, is so relaxing and gratifying. Take part in the Annual Birdwatch, run by the RSPB and normally at the end of January each year.
How do I bring ecotherapy into my hypnotherapy work?
I’m a village girl and I love the great outdoors. I’m a big believer in how nature helps to nurture us, particularly at time of need. I also feel it can be easier and more comfortable to open up whilst outside in natural surroundings. It’s less intense than being in a therapy room.
So, if the treatment plan allows it, I offer to walk with my clients rather than holding the session in my hut or other setting. I find that some clients prefer not having to have the direct eye contact which can be quite uncomfortable. When walking side by side, it’s almost impossible to look directly at each other. My only rule is that mobile phones are turned off or tucked away in a pocket… it’s just for one hour, it’s manageable, and I haven’t had a client not survive the one hour separation yet…
The reason I chose to use a hut in the garden as the therapy room is because it’s natural. It’s made of wood, roof, floors and walls. From one window you can see the greenhouse, full of plants in the spring, and then herbs through the year. From other window, you can see the garden and plants, from another the pond. I feel very grateful for my soft, natural workspace and I love sharing it with my clients.
For more information about ecotherapy, read this great resource from MIND.
To book or enquire about an ecotherapy session with me, please go to the Contact page