Have you ever been having a bad day that seemed to have cleared up on its own after spending some time outside? If so, you’ve already experienced the foundation of a mental healthcare modality known as nature therapy.
What is nature therapy? Sometimes called ecotherapy, Green Care, Horticultural Therapy. Nature therapy is a type of treatment which centers around personal growth and healing within nature. While it might seem fanciful at first, there is actually a significant amount of evidence on the tangible benefits of nature, and how they can relate to the effectiveness of nature therapy.
In this article, you’ll learn what nature therapy is, how it works, how it helps, and how best to take advantage of its amazing effects. Let’s take a look.
What is Nature Therapy?
It should be noted that there is no one strict definition of nature therapy. There are many modalities and types which are practiced differently, but a few things remain the same:
- Sessions occur outside in nature
- Sessions are conducted and overseen by a trained professional, such as a therapist
- Sessions are somehow centrally connected to the appreciation and exploration of natural spaces
There are a number of different varieties of nature therapy that you may come across, depending on where you’re located geographically. Though some of these may be more beneficial to certain patients, the exact type of nature therapy will usually depend on the therapist’s personal approach and the patient’s preferences. Here are a few common types of nature therapy:
- Animal-assisted therapy – These sessions center around a connection with domesticated animals in their habitat. This could include trips to farms where you can feed and interact with a number of animals, or it could consist of bonding with a horse or dog over a number of sessions while outside.
- Adventure therapy – Some therapists offer adventure therapy sessions, where groups or individuals will tackle challenges like white-water rafting, hiking, or rock climbing. This method also has the added mental health benefit of exercise.
- Art therapy in nature – Some forms of nature therapy include arts and crafts, whether it be painting in a meadow or making small trinkets out of grass and other elements of nature itself.
- Night-time nature therapy – Stargazing and other night-time nature activities are sometimes incorporated into nature therapy.
- Nature conservation – Some therapeutic nature programs have a conservation element, strengthening a person’s ties to nature by having them assist in its conservation and upkeep. This method also offers the benefit of exercise, which has been proven to help mental health.
- Exercise in nature – Some nature therapists include an exercise portion to their program. This can be as simple as walks through the park while talking or might be more strenuous depending on the patient’s needs and preferences.
- Horticulture as therapy – The act of growing something from nothing can be extremely therapeutic and provides structure and responsibility on a daily basis. This is a common element in nature therapy regimes.
- Wilderness therapy – Though often less accessible than other forms of nature therapy, group wilderness activities like backpacking, honing outdoor skills, and camping can be a beneficial part of a nature therapy program.
How Can Nature Therapy Help?
Despite the often intangible ways we talk about the beauty of nature and our connection to it, there are a number of concrete ways that nature therapy can help people who commit to it.
Firstly, the old adage of ‘fresh air and exercise’ certainly applies. While it might sound like common knowledge, many people simply don’t have the time, energy, or motivation to consistently get outside. Do it regularly enough, however, and you’ll begin to notice a marked improvement in your mood and energy levels.
Furthermore, time spent in nature can have a direct effect on the symptoms of common mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. According to several pieces of research, being in nature can help reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, fear, and anger. It can also drastically reduce depression and anxiety symptoms, and can even help people with attention challenges feel more focused.
Of course, this is only a result of simply being in nature—it doesn’t even consider the added benefits of working with a trained nature therapist at the same time. A nature therapist will help guide your experience, supporting you as you find connections between your life, your mind, and the natural world around you.
Depending on the challenges that brought you into therapy in the first place, the process may look very different from person to person. But in all cases, the goal is to help people feel at peace with themselves, both on an internal level, as well as in relation to the world around them. While it can be hard to reach this acceptance in the busy urban centres many of us live in, getting into nature can be the perfect solution to help patients find peace and happiness with themselves.
Who is Nature Therapy for?
One of the best parts about nature therapy is that it’s ‘for’ anyone and everyone! Whether you’re dealing with a chronic mental health challenge like depression or anxiety, dealing with a particularly challenging life change such as the death of a loved one, or simply looking to improve your mindfulness and mental health in a proactive manner, nature therapy can help.
There are no hard rules to nature therapy. One person might benefit from more strenuous, extended sessions with lots of exercise and adventure, while another person might prefer a leisurely stroll through a local path. Whatever your needs, goals, and boundaries, you can get something out of nature therapy.
Getting the Most Out of Nature Therapy
There’s not much you need to do to get the most out of nature therapy, but a few key practices can help you enjoy even more of the benefits of your sessions. These preparations include:
- An open mind – The rejuvenating effects of spending time in nature can be slow, so be patient and open-minded. You don’t need to feel any certain kind of way—allow the process to work at its own pace.
- Dress for the occasion – Your nature therapist can give tips on what to wear in order to be comfortable for your appointment. Wear comfortable, outdoors-worthy footwear, and be sure to bring cool, shady clothing in summertime, and warm and/or waterproof layers on colder days.
- Communicate with your therapist – Is something about your nature therapy experience not working as well as it could be? Never be afraid to speak up and let your therapist know how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking. As with all forms of therapy, consider nature therapy as a collaborative act, where you and your therapist work together to find a method that works for you.
Finding Nature Therapy in Toronto, ON
Looking for a trusted therapist to help guide you through a process of self-realization and reflection in the great outdoors? Hopewoods is here to help. Our staff can effortlessly incorporate nature therapy into your regular sessions, or create a program solely based on spending time outdoors.
No matter how you and your therapist choose to approach nature therapy, you’re likely to start experiencing the benefits in just a handful of sessions.
If you’re still curious about nature therapy, including what it can entail, how it can help, and what steps you need to take to get started, contact us at Hopewoods today.