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Exploring Ecopsychology: Nature therapy

Updated: Jan 11

Your healing journey does not have to be a passive process on someone’s couch or in a stuffy office! Nature therapy is an umbrella term used for bringing the healing process outdoors. Used in conjunction with other therapeutic techniques or stand alone, nature therapy builds your connection with nature and yourself. Explore this subsection of Ecopsychology with us!



In the lower left hand corner foreground is a blooming white cherry tree. In the background mountains with soft clouds laying in the valley are illuminated with soft sunrise light.
SEELEDU Ecopsychology Practice in the Black Forest, Schwarzwald of Germany

But first what is Ecopsychology?

Ecopsychology at its core, is about the connection between humankind and nature. It is the branch between both ecology and psychology. It is used to improve the human condition; offering benefits to all of the four categories of Health as outlined by the World Health Organization: physical, mental, social, and spiritual.

Ecopsychology integrates ecology and psychology by fostering the reciprocal relationship between humankind and nature. Ecopsychology as a whole goes beyond individual healing to encompass a broad cultural scope. It also looks to redefine and re-imagine society’s current relationship with nature, asking participants to critically think about their interactions with nature, implications of consumerism, materialism, and environmental exploitation. Ecopsychology understands that the needs of the planet are the needs of the person, and the rights of the person are the rights of the planet (Roszak, 1992).


Ecopsychology in Practice

Ecotherapy, also known as nature therapy is one of the most well known aspects of ecopsychology and combines evidence-based counseling approaches in natural settings. Ecotherapy focuses on the total mind-body-spirit relationship. Connection with nature has been considered beneficial for psychological well-being since times of evolution. Direct contact with the natural world fosters mental health through reducing stress, healing emotional trauma, cognitive processing benefits, helping with addiction recovery, strengthening self-confidence and even cultivating spiritual growth.


Using the principles of positive and client-centered psychology, eco-therapeutic techniques have been shown to be effective in medical disorders like hypertension, obesity, post-surgical recovery and psychosocial conditions like depression, stress reduction, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), attention deficit hyperkinetic disorder (ADHD) and adjustment disorders (Chaudhury, Banerjee 2020) .

Let’s explore the 4 main experiential forms of nature therapy:




Animal Assisted: most commonly seen as canine and equine assisted. The goal is to improve your social, emotional and cognitive functioning. This can also look like emotional support animals and service animals and also as caring for animals. Animal assisted interventions also include being present in spaces, such as farms, or other locations where you come into contact with animals and spend relaxed time feeding, petting, and/or working with them. At SEELEDU we teach you how to deepen your relationship with your own animals, or love up on our favorite good boy and therapy dog.


A boy dressed in blue (right) sits on the forest floor against a tree, with his arm around a black labrador dog lying on the ground. SEELEDU
A SEELEDU Explorer gets cozy with our favorite good boy, Utahraptor our in house therapy dog (therapy dinosaur :)

Did you know that visits from dogs help reduce blood pressure, lower anxiety and stress levels, reduce perceptions of pain and stimulate the release of endorphins(Schuck, 2020), which makes people feel good? This is especially important for those who are feeling lonely, isolated or depressed.


Canine companions also trigger similar neural pathways to the parent-baby bond. When mothers view their own children or dogs, many areas of the brain involved in emotion and reward processing — such as the amygdala, the medial frontal cortex, and dorsal putamen — are activated (Stoeckel, 2014). This highlights the potential strength of these relationships as these pathways also reduce loneliness and depression. In short, dogs help to make us feel better! Our SEELEDU advice for today, is to find a dog to pet!


A kayak glides across a lake with light fog and beautiful blue skies littered with puffy clouds. Anchored on either side by lush green forest. SEELEDU
SEELEDU Explorers Active on the Water

Wilderness/ Adventure: This form of therapy uses outdoor activities, such as hiking, camping, white water rafting, climbing, kayaking, exploring and more. It provides a powerful avenue for self discovery and is most often used with at-risk adolescents but can be applied across populations. Some of the main focus is on perseverance, flexibility, discovery, and transformation. According to researchers from the University of New Hampshire, outdoor behavioral therapy, such as wilderness experiences, is more effective and less expensive than other forms of treatment in helping teens with substance abuse and other mental health issues (Gass, 2019).


Soft morning light refracts between forest trees. SEELEDU
SEELEDU Explorers Waldbaden or forest bathing is a treat for all senses

Forest: Originating from Japan as shinrin-yoku, or forest therapy, is a preventative health practice that immerses your senses in nature. This guided wellbeing experience will bolster your mental and physical health by reducing stress levels, regulating pulse and blood pressure and elevating your mood (Chae, 2021).



Farming/Horticulture: Direct contact with plants can help guide your focus away from stress enhancing your overall quality of life. Horticultural therapy helps improve memory, cognitive abilities, task initiation, language skills, and socialization (Kamioka, 2014). We love helping you start your first garden and love starting community gardens! Want a way to get your hands dirty today? Learn a bit more about pollinator gardens and help support your local habitat!


How are you interacting with our natural world today?


In the words of Erich Fromm “I believe that man is the product of natural evolution that is born from the conflict of being a prisoner and separated from nature, and from the need to find unity and harmony with it” (Schwachhofer, 1965). Nature therapy and Ecopsychology provide a bridge to create that harmony in ourselves, our relationships, our community, and our natural world. At SEELEDU we strive to bring you the best in ecopsychological services.


What can SEELEDU do for you?

SEELEDU explores the journey of being human and nurtures nature connections for health and well-being. SEELEDU is based in science and grounded in nature. Practicing in ecopsychology and recognizing the mutual compassion and nurturing ability between nature and humans, SEELEDU offers live and online programming, development and learning for holistic, whole-body well-being.



References

Chae, Y., Lee, S., Jo, Y., Kang, S., Park, S., & Kang, H. (2021). The Effects of Forest Therapy on Immune Function. Int J Environ Res Public Health. Aug 10;18(16):8440. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18168440. PMID: 34444188; PMCID: PMC8394293.


Chaudhury, P., Banerjee, D. (2020). Recovering With Nature: A Review of Ecotherapy and Implications for the COVID-19 Pandemic. Public Health, 10 December 2020


Gass, M., Wilson, T., & Talbot, B. (2019). The Value of Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare for Adolescent Substance Users with Comorbid Conditions. Substance Abuse Use and Treatment. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1178221819870768


Kamioka, H., et al. (2014). Effectiveness of horticultural therapy: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Complementary Therapies in Medicine: 22, 5. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii S096522991400137X#:~:text=Horticultural%20therapy%20is%20effective%20in,life%20will%20need%20further%20exploration.


O'Haire M.E., Guérin N.A., Kirkham A.C., Daigle C.L. (2015). Animal-Assisted Intervention for Trauma, Including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. HABRI Central Briefs.


Roszak T. The Voice of the Earth. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster (1992).


Schuck, S.E.B., Johnson, H.L., Abdullah, M. M., Stehli, A., Fine, A. H. & Lakes, K. D. (2018). The Role of Canine Assisted Intervention on Improving Self-Esteem in Children with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 08, November 2018


Stoeckel, L. E., Palley, L. S., Gollub, R. L., Niemi, S. M., & Evins, A. E. (2014). Patterns of brain activation when mothers view their own child and dog: an fMRI study. PloS one, 9(10), e107205. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0107205


Schwachhofer R. Credo 1965: Gedichte. [Kreis der Freunde]. Relief-Verlag-Eilers (1965).

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