Therapy in Nature

What we have intuitively known forever, is now scientifically proven. If you spend a little bit of time in nature (2 hours per week to be precise, according to a study published in 2019 by Matthew White at the University of Exeter), there is a benefit to your health and well-being (Barton and Pretty 2010Pinquart et al. 2007Coon et al. 2011) and it also improves the efficiency of cognitive functioning (Berman et al. 2008) This knowledge seems to be innate, therefore, we don’t need to work too hard to convince clients of the benefits of nature – most of them already believe it. And that is also proven by Parker and Crawford (2007).

For psychotherapists, the challenge is not how to convince the client, but the logistics of actually doing some form of outdoor therapy. What do we need to consider?

  • Confidentiality / Privacy – what happens if the client meets a friend or family while engaged in therapy outdoors? Decide how to handle these situations before embarking on any excursion.
  • Risk – Liabilities need to be discussed if the client is physically injured in some way.
  • Time – Is your normal session time enough for productive outdoor therapy? Discuss and agree on fees beforehand. Never surprise or burden a client with add-ons.

Who benefits from Nature Therapy?

People suffering from PTSD, children with learning difficulties, and anyone with anxiety or depression can benefit. Furher, Richards and Peel (2005) demonstrate how outdoor therapy can help people with eating disorders.

Some methods of Nature Therapy:

Horticulture Therapy

study published in 2018 highlights the benefits of gardening. Some of these benefits are reduced feelings of isolation, calmness, better mood, and more pro-social behavior.

In another study by Linden and Grut (2002), on people traumatized by torture (either received or seen), they concluded that horticulture therapy allows the person to begin to move beyond a sense of hopelessness and despair.

Adventure Therapy

This is usually conducted for groups. It works well with people who have conduct disorder or drug problems. ‘Outward Bound’ type of adventure therapy promotes a sense of belonging and boosts morale. This is a fun and experiential type of therapy where trained counselors provide guidance as young people participate in activities such as ropes courses, camping, and hiking. Counselors work closely with the professionals at the training site to ensure the safety of the participants.

Proven benefits:

  • Reduces stress by lowering cortisol levels.
  • Getting face to face with nature generates a sense of awe. This helps people to consider and focus on something much bigger than themselves.
  • Participants improve their interpersonal skills.
  • Isolation is minimized, and social interaction is maximized.
Outdoor Counseling Sessions

A counselor who works with me takes her young autistic clients outdoors for therapy. Sometimes it is to a mall and other times to a nearby walking path. “Walk and Talk” counseling introduced by Doucette (2004) involves students participating in the sessions while walking around school grounds.

In counseling, we talk about getting the clients out of their comfort zone. It is time we ourselves explore the possibilities of stepping out of our own comfort zone and introducing some simple forms of therapy that incorporate an infusion of nature to our clients. Simply moving the session to a park outside might be a good place to start.

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