Treatment for irregularities in mental health have evolved over the years. Aside from prescribed medication, forms of behavioural therapy have consistently been used to assist individuals struggling with mental health disorders. One such form of treatment that has gained traction over the years is Ecotherapy. Ecotherapy is a form of therapeutic treatment which involves outdoor activities in nature. These activities are led by certified mental health professionals who offer support, focus and guidance. The core principle of ecotherapy is based on exploring and appreciating the natural world which in turn positively impacts one’s mental health.
Also read: Does travel help in improving mental health?
The Science Of Ecotherapy
Research over the years has highlighted how a natural environment boosts both physical and mental wellbeing. A systematic review looked at how natural environments benefitted health. The results showed that activities like walking or running in a public park can reduce stress, and improve both wellbeing and self-esteem.
Ecotherapy sessions often follow a structure that involve types of talking therapy like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). A group of researchers at the University of Essex found that in a group of people battling depression, 90 per cent felt a higher level of self-esteem after a walk through a country park. Further, almost three-quarters reported feeling less depressed. Another survey by the same team of researchers found that 94 per cent of people with mental illnesses believed that being out amidst nature put them in a more positive mood.
Nature is known to have a therapeutic effect because of its ability to quieten and calm the mind. Urban lifestyles often leave people feeling isolated, with overwhelming, chaotic thoughts that mirror the events they see unfold around them. In such a scenario, being out amidst nature offers a kind of isolation that is rejuvenating and allows people to ‘slow down.’ Scientists have also found that mindful responsiveness to nature helps in enhanced growth of nerve cells and neuron circuits.
What Comprises Ecotherapy?
Ecotherapy includes a range of methods to help individuals cope with their mental health troubles. Prolonged periods in the wilderness, gardening, meditation and yoga in open spaces are some examples of exposure to nature that helps people concentrate on the here and now. The aim of ecotherapy is to also eliminate over-stimulating someone’s mind and lead them to a space of complete relaxation. An environment of solitude with the absence of external pressure is crucial to helping people feel that they have better control over their lives which in turn boosts their self-esteem.
Some specific forms of eco-therapy include:
- Adventure therapy: Where you can engage in adventurous physical activities like rock climbing or caving.
- Animal-assisted therapy: This involves building a therapeutic relationship with animals like dogs (preferably in an open space).
- Care farming: In this form of eco-therapy you can look after farm animals and grow crops; activities that mimic a more traditional, rustic way of living.
Is Simply Being Out In The Open Enough For Mental Health?
While there’s no doubt that ecotherapy helps people psychologically and spiritually by rebuilding their relationship with nature, it is not the only cure to mental health disorders. Asking someone suffering from depression to ‘go take a walk in the woods’ isn’t going to cure their depression. Each individual reacts to different forms of therapy in their own way. While someone might respond to medication, another person might need counselling. Ecotherapy is one such option that can be experimented with, while on the road to recovery from mental health disorders.
Aside from ecotherapy’s relationship to mental health, being outdoors as a practice is always beneficial. Engaging with nature allows all of us to disconnect and find peace and calm in our natural surroundings. Making an outdoor activity a part of your routine is sure to have a positive impact on your physical, emotional and mental well-being. If you’re not in a position to actually go out on a trip to connect with nature, a simple walk through your neighbourhood park is sure to leave you feeling refreshed.