Ecotherapy: Green Prescription
Ecotherapy is a union between the ideas of ecopsychology and psychotherapy. Fundamental to ecotherapy is our connection to the natural world and the environment we live within. Ecotherapy uses a range of practices in order to help us connect with nature and ultimately with our 'inner' nature. Personal distress can be alleviated by developing the mutual connection between inside and outside. Through learning to care for the natural environment we learn to care for and nurture ourselves. Ecotherapy is about personal healing and healing for the earth.
Psychotherapy aims to help individuals understand and create meaning from emotional and psychological difficulties they are experiencing. Ecotherapy, utilising psychotherapeutic principles, forms a relationship to the natural world in order to enable us to make sense of our inner emotions and life experiences. Spending time in nature provides the space for inward reflection and the potential for transformation as we become conscious of our interconnectivity with the world around us. How we encounter and interpret the natural world creates a personal narrative that gives meaning to our experiences and emotions. We may feel depressed, anxious, lost and alone, overwhelmed by our thoughts and feelings and unable to draw upon previous ways of coping.
The therapeutic value and wellbeing boost that people get from gardening, growing food, being in and looking after the environment has a strong impact on our physical and mental well-being. It helps us to strike a balance as we cope with life’s ups and downs.
From the evidence presented by Mind one of UK largest mental health charity, it’s clear that ecotherapy has a role to play in building and supporting our well-being and resilience, and keeping us all healthy. There are tangible mental well-being benefits from being physically active and ecotherapy seems to do this without the participant even realising it.
It’s also clear that it’s a service that appeals to a wide range of people – young and old, urban and rural – and is one that can really help engage men, who are often the last in line when it comes to accessing well-being and health services.
Ecotherapy can also play a role to strengthen local social and community networks for a wide range of people. The activities provided in ecotherapy help people to learn new skills or rediscover those long forgotten – and in some cases give people the confidence or qualifications to get back into work or training.
It makes sense for public health teams to help people to get involved in activities they enjoy that positively impact on their mental and physical wellbeing.
We are passionate to support and facilitate ecotherapy work in Kashmir. It’s another option we can use to help people take control of their own health and well-being, and make a positive difference to the communities they live in.
In recent years, researchers have become aware of a powerful new kind of therapy, which is just as effective against depression as traditional psychotherapy or medication. And the amazing thing is that you don’t have to pay for this therapy. It’s free, and completely accessible to anyone at anytime, and the added bonus is that they bring benefits to the local environment as people get involved in the maintenance and conservation of green spaces.
This is ecotherapy – contact with nature. A few years ago researchers at the University of Essex in 2007 found that, of a group of people suffering from depression, 90 percent felt a higher level of self-esteem
after a walk through a country park, and almost three-quarters felt less depressed. Another survey by the same research team found that 94% of people with mental illnesses believed that contact with nature put them in a more positive mood. Since then, in the UK contact with nature has been increasingly used as a therapy by mental health professionals.
But as well as helping us to heal our minds, contact with nature can transform us.
Why does nature have this effect on us?
It’s not surprising that nature has a therapeutic effect when you consider that the human race – and all our evolutionary forebears – have been closely bonded with it for all our existence. It’s only in recent times that many of us have been confined to man-made environments. For us, contact with green spaces is therefore like going back home, and fills us with the same sense of safety and belonging. We crave nature in the same way that a child needs a mother, and derive the same feeling of comfort from it.
But the main reason why nature can heal and transform us, we believe, is because of its calming and mind-quietening effect. In nature, our minds process a lot less information than normal, and they don't wear themselves out by concentrating. And most importantly, the beauty and majesty of nature acts a little like a mantra in meditation, slowing down the normal ‘thought-chatter’ which runs chaotically through our minds.
As a result, an inner stillness and energy fills us, generating a glow of well-being and intensifying our perceptions. So the next time you feel depressed or frustrated, don’t choose retail therapy or mood-altering medication – put on your walking boots and try ecotherapy instead. You may not just get a boost of well-being, but an awakening experience as well.