Ecotherapy is really an umbrella term for a whole variety of nature-based therapies which utilise an experiential connection with nature as a major part of the therapeutic process.

Ecotherapy draws its ideas from both modern and ancients practices. Many native cultures today still use a harmonious relationship with nature, to heal, physically, mentally and spiritually. In native cultures, the shaman would in effect be the equivalent of our modern doctor, psychotherapist and counsellor. Unlike us, our ancestors would have seen little or no separation between themselves and the natural world they lived in.

The nature-based healing practices of many native cultures are now being heavily researched and integrated with modern therapeutic practices under the umbrella term of 'ecotherapy.' It is a selection of these practices that are used during my workshops and one-to-one nature based therapy sessions.

Why do we need ecotherapy?

In industrialised countries we now spend more than 90% of our time indoors. To make matters worse only a small percentage of our time outdoors is actually spent in a natural environment. As a result our modern society has become increasingly disconnected from the natural world.

For millennia we have existed in a very close relationship with the natural world, and have been intrinsically connected to the rhythms of our natural environment, from our water and food, to the changing of the seasons. Human evolution has been so closely intertwined with our environment, that our need for a relationship with nature must reside in our very genes. Our genetic make-up has barely changed over the last 10000 years: an almost insignificant change of 0.005%. Therefore it would seem that despite our modern society and technological advancements, we are still genetically hard-wired to need to co-exist in close relationship with the natural environment.

As humans we seem drawn, almost unconsciously, to activities which involve the natural environment. Research suggests human identity, emotional well-being, and personal fulfilment depend on our relationship with nature. People are already aware of the beneficial psychological effects of simply walking in a forest or the mountains or being on a beach,. I'm sure it is no accident that we are drawn to areas of natural beauty when taking our holidays.

It is now believed by many researchers that our modern society's disconnection from the natural world and our in-built need to relate to it, can create a series of internal mental conflicts, which can give rise to behavioural, emotional, and addictive problems.

Given our seemingly in-built requirement for interaction with the natural world for our physical and mental well-being, it would appear that there is a strong need for us to finds ways of re-integrating nature back into our lives, so that we can redress the balance.

A Possible Solution

Man has only recently become disconnected and isolated from the natural world. For as long as humans have been around, they have existed in relation to nature. They have made use of nature to heal and enhance their well-being, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Our in-built genetic requirement for relationship with nature has become disrupted, leaving us unbalanced and open to a variety of behavioural and emotional problems.

There are now many results from different researchers that show that spending some time in relationship with nature will have considerable benefit to your mental and physical well-being. On a simple level, this could be sitting in your garden, a walk in the local park, spending time with a pet, or a walk in a forest, or along a beach. If you are suffering from more severe issues, such as anxiety, depression, low self esteem or confidence, or an addiction then it may be worth seeking out the help of a professional and qualified ecotherapist.

Nature-based therapies such as Equine-Assisted Therapy, Wilderness Therapy, Nature Awareness, Pet-Assisted Therapy, Green Therapy, Horticultural Therapy and Walking Therapy, all deliberately take this concept much further by actively utilising a connection with nature as part of the personal change process to enhance your psychological and spiritual health and well-being.

Nature-based Therapies and Traditional Talking Therapies

Usually ecotherapies are more focused on experiential learning, especially when compared to traditional talking therapies. Participants learn through taking part in activities and by immersing themselves in the natural environment, as well as by talking about their insights and experiences. As the focus is largely on experiential learning rather than talking and analysis, many are surprised by how easily change occurs. Ecotherapy seems to be particularly helpful when participants have difficulty in expressing their thoughts and feelings, or when those thoughts are usually outside their normal conscious awareness.

The aim is to help you to...

1. challenge your unhelpful thought patterns and perceived limitations, and develop insight into your own strengths, through the use of the natural environment and challenging nature-based activities.

2. develop a deeper understanding of how you relate to others, yourself, and your life, by reflecting on any symbolic or metaphorical relationships between the nature-based activities and your own life

3. process your new understandings through self reflection activities and by sharing your insights with others in a relaxed, constructive, supportive, non-judgemental environment.

4. integrate your new learnings and positive resources so that they become available in your everyday life

Could nature-based personal development work for you?

Some people simply feel uncomfortable with the traditional idea of sitting in a room talking to a therapist or coach, and would prefer to learn by doing and being, rather than talking and analysing. If you are someone who has an interest in nature, and you love outdoor activities then nature-based therapies and coaching could be worth investigating.

Author's Bio: 

About the author: Nigel Magowan is an ecotherapist who regularly works with people who have anxiety, confidence, relationship, depression and addiction issues. To find out more about his outdoor nature based psychotherapy, counselling and coaching visit his website