Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What is ecotherapy?

By Nigel Magowan

Nature-based therapies utilise an experiential connection with nature as a major part of the personal change process. An umbrella term for a whole range of nature-based therapies is Ecotherapy.

Ecotherapy is a relatively new field of therapy, but one which has many ancient roots, and as such, it draws its ideas from both modern and ancients practices. Unlike us, our ancestors would have seen little or no separation between themselves and the natural world they lived in. Many native cultures today still live in a harmonious relationship with nature, interacting with nature's rhythms, to sustain and heal, physically, mentally and spiritually. In native cultures, the shaman would in effect be the equivalent of our modern doctor, counsellor and psychotherapist.

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 nature-based therapy?

Western society has become more and more industrialised and urbanised. People in industrialised nations now spend more than 90% of their lives indoors. Our time spent outside, surrounded by nature, is estimated at only 1% - 5%. As a modern society we have become increasingly disconnected from the natural world.

Our genetic make-up has barely changed over the last 10000 years. An almost insignificant change of 0.005%. We have existed in a very close relationship with the natural world for tens of thousands of years, and have been deeply connected to the rhythms of our natural environment. Human development has been so closely linked with our environment, that our need for a relationship with nature must reside in our very genes. Therefore it would seem we are still genetically hard-wired to co-exist in close relationship with the natural environment.

We are drawn almost unconsciously to activities which involve the natural environment. I'm sure it is no accident that many of us take our holidays in areas of natural beauty, such as mountains beaches and forests. Research suggests that our relationship with nature positively affects our emotional well-being, human identity and personal fulfilment.

Some researchers now believe that the internal conflicts that can cause behavioural and emotional problems can be caused or at the very least intensified by our modern society's disconnection from the natural world and our in-built need to relate to it.

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 Potential Solution

Mankind's use of nature to enhance well-being, physically, mentally and spritually, has been around probably as long as humans have existed. It is only in more recent times, largely due to industrialisation and urbanisation, that man has become more and more disconnected and isolated from the natural world. In our modern society, that in-built need for relationship with nature has become disrupted, leaving us unbalanced and open to a variety of mental and emotional problems.

It has been shown by different researchers that just spending time outdoors in green space can have significant benefits on your mental, physical and spiritual well-being. This can be as simple as spending some time sitting in your local park, or garden, or with a pet, or going for a walk by the sea. If your issues are more severe, such as depression, anxiety, addictions, low self esteem or confidence then it would be worth seeking out the help of a professional and experienced ecotherapist.

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

Ecotherapy and Talking Therapies

Ecotherapy is often focused much more on experiential learning, especially when compared to traditional talking therapies. Participants learn through relating to and immersing themselves in the natural environment and activities, as well as by talking about their insights and experiences.

The aim is to help you to...

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

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

3. process your new learnings through sharing insights in a relaxed, constructive, supportive, non-judgemental and respectful environment

4. help you to integrate your new understandings so that they become available in your everyday life.

Could nature-based therapies and coaching be suitable for?

If you are someone who has an interest in nature, and you love the outdoors, or perhaps you just want to try something different then nature-based personal development could be worth investigating. More and more research is showing that nature based therapies can be effective treatments for issues such as depression, anxieties, addictions, confidence building and relationship skills.

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