It is estimated that one in six adults suffers from mental health problems such as depression or anxiety. And not only is mental illness one of the most common causes of illness in the world, but it’s also on the rise. It is therefore essential to find ways to improve mental health.
One type of therapy that is starting to become very popular is “ecotherapy” which advocates claim can improve mental and physical well-being. Sometimes called green therapy or green care, this type of formal therapeutic treatment involves being active in natural spaces. It’s also considered one of the biggest wellness trends of 2020, although the practice is far from new.
Although definitions of ecotherapy vary, most agree that it is a regular, structured activity that is:
– led by a therapist
– focuses on an activity (like gardening), rather than a health outcome
– takes place in a natural environment
– involves interacting with and exploring the natural world and encourages social interaction.
The main difference between ecotherapy and recreation is the presence of a qualified practitioner or therapist. The role of the therapist is often overlooked, but they are essential in facilitating patient interactions with the natural and social environment and setting clinical goals for the session.
Examples of ecotherapy activities may include gardening, farming, forest walks, and nature arts and crafts. Like the patient, the therapist actively participates in the ecotherapy session.
Why ecotherapy is so beneficial for mental health?
The scientific basis for ecotherapy comes from previous research that has shown that natural environments are good for mental and physical health. A systematic review of studies analyzed the health benefits of natural settings and found that interaction with natural settings, such as walking or running in a public park, can provide a range of health benefits. health, including reduced stress and improved mood, well-being and self-esteem.
Research has also shown that natural settings also encourage physical activity. For example, an ecotherapy gardening session involves not only interaction with nature but also the moderate-vigorous physical activity associated with gardening.
Studies show that physical activity in natural settings has greater health benefits than physical activity in other environments. Some of these benefits include lower stress and improved mood.
Ecotherapy could also provide opportunities for socializing, providing another reason for its use as a mental health treatment. Research shows that loneliness and social isolation are twice as harmful to health as obesity.
They are also more harmful than physical inactivity and are as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Socialization is also associated with a higher life expectancy, with research indicating a 50% increased likelihood of survival in older people who have strong social connections.
Ecotherapy can also give people a sense of accomplishment and purpose. It can provide structure and routine for people who might not have one in their lives, perhaps due to poor mental health. Having a structure and a routine is one aspect of use that research shows to benefit mental health.
Science takes hold of ecotherapy
Currently, much of the evidence showing the benefits of ecotherapy comes from qualitative data. For example, one study interviewed people to understand the effects of ecotherapy.
An ecotherapy program would have improved physical and mental health and provided daily structure and routine. It also allowed participants to learn new skills and socialize. But, there was no statistical data to support these results.
This means that the study results were based solely on the reported experiences of participants, which may not provide an accurate picture of the effect ecotherapy would have on the general population.
Despite this, research on the benefits of ecotherapy is growing. An in-depth analysis focused on nine different ecotherapy programs. He found that people who participated in any type of ecotherapy program had significant improvements in self-esteem, enhanced well-being and social inclusion, they also felt more connected to nature. .
Participants also had significant mood improvements, with reduced feelings of anger, tension, depression and confusion after just one ecotherapy session.
Other studies have suggested reductions in physiological stress and improvements in anxiety, depression, mood and self-esteem in people with a range of psychiatric illnesses, including the disorder bipolar, major depression and mild dementia after participating in a gardening program.