the healing nature of ecotherapy

Who knew the most powerful sources of healing were right outside our doors? It’s about time that we start embracing ecotherapy and nature’s therapeutic potential.

It’s hard to believe a doctor could prescribe a struggling patient a certain length of time spent outside as a valid treatment. Or that there’s properties in soil that help relieve depression. Or hearing rustling leaves will alleviate stress.

In traditional healthcare and spiritual care, that sounds like plain jibberish. Who’s to say some hippie “remedies” that somehow will make you invincible?

I don’t believe that to be the case, not to that extent, but there’s a growing field (not the ones with wheat and corn!) of study dedicated to the healing of the outdoors: ecotherapy and nature therapy.

Not only do I see this as a life-changing opportunity for mental health treatment, but I also see amazing ways our spirituality can flourish in the great outdoors.

What is ecotherapy?

Ecotherapy is a profession just beginning to sprout (plant pun intended). While ecotherapy shouldn’t replace evidence-based practice, there is increased interest in learning more about how a therapy session outside or listening to nature could improve our health.

According to Howard Clinebell, who wrote a 1996 book on the topic, “ecotherapy” refers to healing and growth nurtured by healthy interaction with the earth. He also called it “green therapy” and “earth-centered therapy.” It takes modern psychological study, mashes it with ancient indigenous wisdom, and concludes that humanity is inseparable from nature.

we are becoming increasingly disconnected.

Think of how often we in our daily lives actually go outside, at least beyond walking in and out of buildings for work or class. Not much, frankly. We have all the entertainment we need indoors, thanks to technology. Even when we are outside, we still have our phones glued to our hands and barely acknowledge what we pass as we walk by.

I cannot help but address our climate crisis. It’s so obvious that our disconnection from nature is a major catalyst for abusing the environment. The more that we feel ourselves as an authority outside of the natural world, the more we justify disrespecting natural resources.

The very concept of land ownership is contrary to our human roots, especially for indigenous cultures. Our abilities as complex sentient beings make us responsible for acting as good stewards. When we lose sight of this present moment, instead focusing on some “end-goal” like Heaven that is somehow separate from Mother Nature, that is when we all ail.

Is it just pseudoscience?

Becoming a tree hugger isn’t a new concept. In 1862, Henry David Thoreau was toting the importance of walking in nature to keep us active and healthy. Another point made in that time of tuberculosis was to just destroy all our homes and sleep in open air. A tad harsh, but the thought’s there.

Now we’re adjusting that suggestion into specific routines to follow, like prescribing obese, anxious, or depressed children to visit a park for a certain length of time. Or going on a hike or walk every few days. It feels as if we’re reverting back to our essence because we’ve changed our way of living so quickly.

We continue to find new evidence showing that this is indeed beneficial for us to do. In 2007, researchers found that after a group of depressed people took a nature walk, over three-quarters of them felt less depressed. Another survey found around 94 percent of people with mental illness found that contact with nature helps alleviate their symptoms.

Incorporating ecotherapy into everyday life.

Ecotherapy is quite flexible to fit specific needs in specific settings. Both those in rural and urban areas can practice it. Activities can include working in nature, like gardening or getting involved in a conservation project.

The simplest ways to incorporate ecotherapy into your self-care practices are through unadulterated natural experiences. Listening and mindfulness exercises are especially potent among nature. Perhaps simply grounding your bare feet into the earth or embracing a walking meditation speak to you, or even evoking prayer in grass or beneath a tree. Maybe you too will find enlightenment like the Buddha under the bodhi tree!

Allow nature to speak to you. And open up your ears and mind enough to really listen. Nothing quite comes close to proving a Divine Creator is at work than rich complexities and awe-striking beauty of nature.

making the world a healthier place.

Our current systems exploit Mother Nature. We have focused so fiercely upon what the environment can give to us, we’ve forgotten the duality of giving back. Cue Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree.

Earth’s health equates to our health. Neither party is happy per the status quo. Toxic waste comes in many varieties, most of which are beyond our immediate vision.

The greatest form of service we can be offering in this present state is nurturing all forms of life. We will never be fully at peace and healthy if our fellow spiritual beings are suffering: by this, I mean our plants and animals. Our oceans and air.

Service toward true eco-justice is one of the best forms of ecotherapy. Finding purpose again in existing in unity with all of Creation. Reinstilling the intrinsic value of our universe as a whole.

So please, I urge you to act from any capacity you can. Our world depends on it. As long as nature is healing for us, then we have the sacred duty of healing nature.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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6th December 2017 at 1:29 am

Very insightful post, Allie! I love spending time outside in nature 🙂 <3 I don't do it enough.

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