When people think of a therapy space, they often think of two chairs sat almost facing each other in a smallish room. People are less likely to think of a park, or a summer house in a garden, or a room full of plants, stones, branches, leaves and acorns.
Ecotherapy is the use of nature in therapy. This can mean anything from going on walks in nature, to using natural objects inside a therapy room to explore issues you are struggling with.
The idea of nature being good for our wellbeing has existed for centuries; from relaxing gardens in monasteries and country houses to Eastern ideas of living in tune with the universe, or animistic traditions where animals represent spirits that guide people’s lives. Nature has been entwined with our wellbeing for longer than we may realise.
More recently, during the COVID-19 pandemic people turned to nature for comfort; listening to bird song in the quiet streets, relishing the walk in the park as the only time we could go out, or sharing pictures of wildlife venturing further and further into our cities. Ecotherapy harnesses the essential calming, healing quality of nature by using it therapeutically.
What Problems Could be Helped with Ecotherapy?
Ecotherapy is not a treatment for a particular type or group of problems, instead, it is a way of doing therapy that can be adapted to suit lots of different needs.
In truth, it is about how the client and therapist want to use it, so it might be more helpful to think about the kinds of things an ecotherapy session could involve and then consider if you would find that useful.
What Could an Ecotherapy Session Involve?
As mentioned, it is entirely up to the therapist and client what parts of ecotherapy they want to use. It could involve spending time in nature, and exploring how a different landscape makes you feel to allow a person to explore how different situations in life make them feel.
It could involve listening, touching, and looking at nature in a more intense way to reawaken your senses. Holding a leaf in your hand and really looking at the colours, feeling the textures and hearing the sounds it makes as the winds rustle can help ground you in your body and make you more aware of the present moment rather than being caught up in your thoughts.
It could involve looking to the animal kingdom to find different ways of existing that challenge our ideas of social structures; fish that change gender based on mate availability, male seahorses that care for newborn babies, and hyenas that make group decisions by sneezing to vote. Sometimes nature can provide us a lens through which to see the world differently, which might just help us think about our lives differently.
It could involve looking at how each part of nature relies on each other; how the bugs enrich the soil, which feeds the plant till it produces seeds, which the bird eats and takes back to its young in the nest miles away. This can help us think about what we are connected to and what that connection means to us.
Why try Ecotherapy?
For some people ecotherapy appeals because they can make their love of nature part of their therapy work; bringing something that has always soothed them into the therapy space. But for others, it could be a completely new experience to consider nature and how it could help them heal.
When we recognise that we are not above nature but part of it, we can feel connected to something bigger than us, that comforts and supports us. Good ecotherapy gives us a chance to heal by connecting to nature, to feel better by recognising the beauty, complexity and wonder that nature can bring to our lives.
Claire Smith is a UKCP registered psychotherapist who has a special interest in Eco-Therapy and environmental issues.