Ecotherapy? What's that?
Many people have asked me this question, both clients and other counsellors. Perhaps the word Ecotherapy sounds rather mysterious, but actually, it’s grounded in common sense and experiences that most human beings can relate to.
Ecotherapy means ‘restoring wellbeing through contact with nature'. From the feeling of awe that comes with gazing at an amazing sunset, to the tired happiness we see in children at the end of a long day’s play on the beach, to the sense that mulling over a problem while taking a walk can be helpful: these are examples of the beneficial effects of nature.
Ecotherapy is increasingly being used in mental health settings. In London, psychotherapists work with traumatised torture survivors in an allotment project, where nature and its cycles provide a common language, allowing their souls to be reached and healed. In my own city of Sheffield, a gardening project called SAGE Greenfingers, supported by the NHS, helps adults with mental health problems and their carers to feel less low and isolated.
Animal Assisted Therapy
Another branch of Ecotherapy is called Animal Assisted Therapy. Animals, such as dogs and horses, are used to help both adults and children recover from bereavement, trauma, depression and so on. So, how are animals able to provide psychological therapy? They can offer unconditional acceptance without judgement, pleasing physical contact, a calming effect on the body’s systems, a chance for humour and play, and a feeling of spiritual connection. Sometimes people can tell an animal things they can’t yet entrust to a human being.
The NHS recommends regular physical activity for people with mild to moderate depression, and to improve older people’s health. A recent report by the mental health charity Mind, titled “Ecotherapy: the green agenda for mental health”, explained how outdoor walks improved feelings of self-esteem, depression and tension. The report recommended that green exercise should be encouraged by GPs, that access to green space should be a key issue in all care planning, and that Ecotherapy should be taken seriously as a cost-effective treatment for mental distress.