Whilst the word might conjure up images of beach-cleaning weekends and the likes of what Greta Thunberg might practice for her self-care-
Eco-therapy isn’t just about doing good things for the environment in exchange for better mental health-
It’s actually more of an umbrella term for a lot, and I mean A LOT of different ways of hanging out with nature! And not just for mental health either!
Although Eco-psychology is considered a newly emerging field in today’s world, the idea behind it- that humans have a deep connection with nature is one you’ll find discussed throughout history from Einstein and Da Vinci’s theories on the interconnection of all things, to being a fundamental teaching of Taoism since the year 145!
So why haven’t I heard of it?
That’s a deep question- one we’ll be exploring much more in another post sometime! But this connection we have- whilst it’s been thrown around the thought bank for centuries, it wasn’t really given any scientific weight until Robert Greenway came about and coined the term “psychoecology” back in the 60’s… (But “ecopsychology” didn’t come about til Theodore Roszak in the 90’s)
Now whether that’s down to things like collective lifestyle changes that shushed humanity indoors, or mindless consumerism that put a price on nature’s worth-
Whatever caused us to sever this connection, we’ve been missing out on a free, easy to use, and always accessible self-care tool because of it!
What and who is Eco-Therapy for?
Everything, and everyone! Name your problem; whatever your comfort level with nature, there’s going to be a way it can help!
From increasing hospital recovery times, healing traumas and addictions, managing overall health, boosting self-esteem- these are just some of the reported experiences on adopting nature into your self-care!
As I said though, Ecopsychology is still a brand spanking new field- so by contrast to how long the idea of our connection to nature has been around, the actual scientific studies into it barely give a glimpse into its potential…
But the ones that have been done all yield the same results- we’re better off with nature in our lives than without it!
How do you practice it?
Anyway you like!
Fundamentally, Eco-Therapy is about engaging with nature to feel good-
Meaning you don’t have to channel your inner Bear Gryll’s to be able to practice it- heck, you don’t even have to step outside if you don’t want to!
Most of the time, how to practice Eco-Therapy is talked about in the ways we’re going to have a lil’ looksie at in a second; activities that take place outdoors, and usually with professional guidance…
At first glance though, none of these look readily accessible to those who don’t live in or near rural spaces, can afford therapy, or have the call of the wild in their heart-
So I’m gonna be adding another unofficial practice to the list: “Easy Breezy Eco-Therapy!”
But first, let’s skim over what else is on the table…
Ways of practising Eco-Therapy:
Rock-climbing, rafting, snow-boarding… The list looks more like an extreme sporting event than a therapy option! So if thrills are your thing, there’s lots of adventures to be had out there with this one!
You can read this great article from Addiction Center to learn more!
Alright… Maybe for this you do need to channel your inner Gryll’s. With Wilderness Therapy, you’re learning skills on how to survive in the wild; building shelters, foraging… Bear poop eating optional…
Learn more about it over on Refinery 29!
You’ll probably already know about this a bit from all those gosh darn cute videos of therapy dogs, horses, pigs and the like- but animal assistance also includes options like volunteering at animal sanctuaries, horse yards, or even getting a suitable pet of your own!
What else does it do? Read more over on Medical News Today!
Is where you’ll be learning things like growing food, learning different farming practices, and how to take care of the land and animals- I’d probably say it’s one of the more popular choices nowadays with all the care farm retreats springing up like daisies!
Positive. News does a great job at explaining more about how it can help you!
For those of you with a passion for environmentalism, or just want your self-care to mean something beyond feeling good for yourself, getting involved in Conservation therapy (also known as Green Gyms) can see you getting a good workout on trash clean ups, tending to public parks and green spaces-
See how The Conservation Volunteers work with this kind of Eco-Therapy!
Real simple- you move your workouts from indoors, to outdoors! Yoga in the park, meditating under a tree, going for a hike- I’ll say even climbing a tree constitutes part of Green Exercise’s umbrella!
Queensland Health has some great ideas to get you started!
Another simple one to engage with! Here you’re using natural elements to make and create things, or just having nature as a backdrop whilst working on your creative endeavours-
Read more over on Eco-Art Therapy!
Getting together with a bunch of people and growing awesome stuff is the idea behind this one! Think gardening clubs, community allotment growing-
Head on over to Wikipedia for more horticulture ideas!
Easy Breezy Eco-Therapy:
And for our final one, the unofficial addition for those of us who can’t readily access these other options- or just want to dip our toe into the water for now, this one’s for working with what you can and have to engage with nature-
So it’d be things like getting and taking care of house-plants, or growing our own herbs on the windowsill- using technology to emulate nature; like with rain sounds or pictures and videos…
And if you can get outside but don’t want to so hands-on with nature, simple activities you enjoy doing with nature as a setting to them is a great way to start getting more comfortable it!
Like reading a book under a tree, having a picnic lunch, listening to music whilst watching the clouds roll by-
I’ll be posting up more in-depth reads of each starting with this last one soon, but for time’s sake today, that’s your platter in a nutshell!
Okay… But how is working on a smelly farm going to make me feel better?
Well here’s where things get interesting…
On a basic level, hanging out with nature exposes you to elements that help your body function better-
Like higher quality air (rather than the second hand air you have indoors) that helps digestion, and blood flow, vitamin D from the sun, giving you brain a break from-
over stimulation, increasing virus and tumour fighting- white blood cells, and boosting cytokine levels that aids in the production of our brains happy chemical; serotonin-
All that alone comes from spending a few hours outside, breathing fresh air, and playing with dirt!
Just by having nature as a backdrop for your self-care, you’re assisting your body in feeling stronger with barely any effort!
Then there’s what you do whilst you’re out there that keeps the benefits rolling in-
And why there’s such an array of options to choose from!
Let’s say though you tried Wilderness Therapy-
And you’re out there making fires, building huts, and cooking under the stars– usually with other people too in a therapeutic setting…
Your benefits in this eco-therapy setting might include self-esteem, confidence, and self-appreciation boosts from trying and achieving, the nurturing of independence and self-trust, the workout you give your brain learning and mastering new skills, helping your social skills and building trust toward others, becoming more mindful and self-reflective through the tasks and challenges the experience brings-
Honestly, if I went through everything, this post is going to take up the next few hours of your life-
And that’s just for the Eco side…
Add on the Therapy- maybe not even actual therapy; just a practice- like journaling say, that encourages you to think deeper about these experiences, and apply your past life experiences and ways of thinking and being to them-
You start reaping even more benefits!
Like being able to discover patterns in behaviours and emotions or unhealthy habits and ways of coping, managing stressful situations with more ease, education beyond the mastery of new skills; being able to apply them to other life areas for instance-
Combined, they make up a self-evolving- perhaps a little unorthodox, but effective practice that gradually evolves into a conscious mindfulness not just toward yourself, but the world around you too…
You sound pretty confident about that, how do you know it works?
I might have accidentally turned my entire life into a massive Eco-Therapy project… (A story for another time, I promise!)
Whilst my methods definitely were unconventional; packing up my city life and moving to a mountainside with no water, electricity, or even a house-
I went from being a depressed, reclusive, self-loathing nightmare to someone confident and expressive enough to be here with you today- all through Eco-Therapy!
Having no option but to be with nature 24/7, it whooped my ass with challenges that quickly built up a lot of self-trust and reliance- and when it got me to a level where I started caring enough for myself to maintain a consistent journal practice each week-
That’s where things got freaky.
I’m talking being taught as an incessant people pleaser how to set boundaries by a sheep kind of freaky.
Sounds absolutely wild I know- but with Eco-therapy if you’re willing to open your mind to the possibility of a lesson to be learnt in everything-
You’ll find there’s a lot we can unearth about ourselves in the great outdoors…
Please remember, I’ am not a health-care professional. This article is based off my own personal experiences and research and should be considered mindfully before taking any action. If you are keen to practice any of these but are unsure of how they might affect any current conditions, please consult with a trained professional first!
Discover more about Eco-Therapy and Psychology with these articles!
National Center for Biotechnology Information: Eco-Therapy- A forgotten Eco-Systems Service
Frontiers in Public Health: Recovering with Nature
Yale Environment 360: Ecopsychology: How Immersion in Nature Benefits Your Health
MIND: Nature and Mental Health