What is Nature Therapy?
Nature Therapy: “A therapeutic approach, taking place in nature, using non-verbal and creative methods to extend common therapeutic practices in ways that can include a dialogue with nature” (Berger, 2008, p. 8).
Nature therapy is just like regular psychotherapy, except that it takes place outside, or incorporates nature into the session.
Why would I want to choose nature therapy over traditional psychotherapy?
What can I expect from a nature therapy session?
We will work together to create a treatment plan that is specific to your therapeutic goals. This plan will be based on your psychological, and physical needs. The first session will always happen indoors, during which I will conduct a thorough assessment. This assessment will help inform me about you. Next, we will come up with a plan based on your psychological profile that fits your goals. My approach is holistic, and I take all kinds of factors into account to create an appropriate plan. Your nature therapy sessions could include hiking, walking, mindfulness practice, meditation, nature presecriptions, guided imagery, or the use of metaphor. It can include anything from a strenuous hike, to sitting under a tree. It all depends on your needs, and wants.
What benefits can I receive from spending time in nature?
Many psychological benefits can be realized by spending time in a natural environment (Louv, 2005), including improved self-concept (Schreyer et al.,1990) lower stress levels, increased emotional health (Leather, Pyrgas, Beale & Lawrence, 1998) and deeper connection to meaning, purpose, and spirituality (Roscoe, 2009). Researchers also have noted improved job satisfaction in jobs with more green space (Kaplan, 1993; Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989), improved behavior and decreased symptoms of ADHD in children (Kuo & Taylor, 2004), and decreases in anxiety disorders, depression, and other physical health problems for individuals living near green space (Maas, Verheij, De Vries, Spreeuwenberg, Schellevis, & Groenewegen, 2009). Maas et al. (2009) studied more than 300,000 Dutch medical records and found that the more green space that existed around a person’s residence, the less likely the person was to experience depression and/or anxiety (Maas et al., 2009).
Activities such as tending community gardens and involvement in ecological preservation can elicit feelings of connection to community through acts of giving to the environment, which can increase feelings of self-worth and holistic wellness (Brymer, Cuddihy & Sharma-Brymer, 2010; Pilisuk, 2001; Reese & Myers; 2012). Counseling opportunities that involve projects such as engaging in beautification projects and gardening, provide activities through which clients and counselors can feel connected to and responsible for something larger than themselves. Activities such as these allow for the fostering of social interest, one of Alfred Adler’s keys to mental health and wellness, and feelings of connection to community (Brymer et al., 2010; Corsini & Wedding, 2008; Reese & Myers, 2012; Wakefield, Yeudall, Taron, Reynolds & Skinner, 2007).
More importantly, human beings depend on the health of the natural environment in order to survive. Recently, researchers have focused on understanding the link between nature and mental health, and the ways in which humans may be dependent on nature for spiritual and emotional needs as well as survival (Friedmann & Thomas, 1995; Frumkin, 2001; Katcher & Beck, 1987; Maller, Townsend, & Pryer, Brown & St. Leger, 2006; Roszak et al., 1995; Wilson, 1984). For most of our evolutionary history, humans have lived solely off the land, near bodies of water, which provided necessary hydration for humans, animals that humans ate, and plants. The adaptive behaviors learned in natural environments, such as fears related to dangerous stimuli, perpetuated survival. Wilson (1984) conjectured that humans also have a natural emotional connection or attraction towards living things that they, “innately seek out that, which is life giving, and innately desire a connection with nature and life-giving sources” (p.1).
Although it may seem intuitive that nature has restorative effects on mental health, researchers are just starting to look more closely at the role that natural environments can play in the treatment of mental health problems. There is a dearth of literature on the benefits of nature with regard to counseling provided by licensed professionals. The literature that exists is heavily focused on wilderness therapy. Wilderness therapy is a type of therapy in which clients receive a variety of services in a natural environment, participate in self and group sustaining activities, have time alone in nature, engage in exercise, and build relationships with therapists and other group members (Caulkins, White & Russel, 2006). Wilderness therapy has been a popular treatment modality for adolescents and has expanded as a discipline to treat a wider variety of mental health concerns. Although wilderness therapy has been used to treat mental health concerns, it differs from traditional therapy, not only with regard to setting, but with respect to training as well. No professional license is required to practice wilderness therapy (Scott & Duerson, 2010).
Counseling in nature utilizes the innate therapeutic benefits of the outdoors by providing a natural environment in which to process issues and engage in experiential counseling activities. The insightfulness and deeper meaning one can experience by spending time outdoors can be beneficial to the client engaged in counseling in a natural environment (Roscoe, 2009). Experiences such as outdoor and group activities can increase self-efficacy, self-esteem, and creative self-expression (Berger, 2006). The use of metaphor is also abundant in this type of counseling and can lead to deeper processing of emotions, goals, and strengths (Reese & Myers, 2012). The natural environment and the possible activities and relationships that may ensue in natural environments can facilitate a non-threatening, stigma-free environment in which the counselor can be viewed as simply another person, instead of a threatening authority figure (Becker, 2010).