This week you might hear the term Ecotherapy as an approach to tackle mental health issues and a way to reset the mind and body especially as this years Mental Health Awareness Month’s theme is nature.
So what is it and how can it help you? According to Mind ecotherapy is a formal type of therapeutic treatment which involves doing outdoor activities in nature. There isn’t one single definition of ecotherapy, but it’s often used to describe a regular, structured activity that:
- is led by trained professionals (sometimes therapists), who are there to support you
- focuses on doing an activity, rather than on your health
- takes place in a green environment
- is related to exploring and appreciating the natural world
- involves spending time with other people, although you can always choose to interact at your own pace.
Ecotherapy isn’t only accessible in the countryside but can be done in rural settings too such as parks, gardens and woodlands. This therapy is generally focused on working in and experiencing nature this can be through gardening, conservation projects, walking and cycling or even just enjoying the view.
Ecotherapy sessions can follow a set structure or can be more informal, not all sessions are run by health professionals, some can be a group meeting to work together on a shared experience in nature. Some sessions with a more set structure can be run outdoors by therapists who incorporate types of talking therapies such as cognitive cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
Mind lists the types of ecotherapy you can get involved in:
- Adventure therapy involves doing adventurous physical activities in a group, such as rafting, rock climbing or caving.
- Animal assisted interventions involve being in spaces such as farms where you come into contact with animals and spending relaxed time feeding or petting them.
- Animal-assisted therapy involves building a therapeutic relationship with animals, such as horses or dogs.
- Care farming, or therapeutic farming activities, involves looking after farm animals, growing crops or helping to manage woodland. Find out more from Care Farming UK.
- Conservation, sometimes called ‘Green Gyms’. Combines physical exercise with protecting and caring for natural spaces. Find out more from The Conservation Volunteers (TCV).
- Green exercise therapy involves doing exercise in green spaces, for example walking, running or cycling. Find out more from Walking for Health and Let’s Walk Cymru.
- Nature arts and crafts, or doing art in or with nature. Can include creating art in green space, using the environment as inspiration or using natural materials such as wood, grass or clay.
- Social and therapeutic horticulture involves gardening work such as growing food in allotments or community gardens, or inside buildings like village halls or libraries. This could lead to work experience, such as selling food at a market garden, or the opportunity to gain qualifications. Find out more from Carry on Gardening, Groundwork and Thrive.
- Wilderness therapy involves spending time in the wild and doing activities together in a group, for example making shelters and hiking. Find out more from The Wilderness Foundation.
So how can you get involved in looking after your mental health with ecotherapy? I’ve linked some useful sites below, take a look there’s something for everyone and even find opportunities to volunteer giving back to nature at the same time as reaping the rewards of being immersed in it at the same time!
Gardening, farming, conservation and volunteering: Carry on Gardening, The Conservation Volunteers (TVC), Grow Wild, National Allotment Society, Royal Horticultural Society, Social Farms & Gardens, Thrive Do-it, Groundwork, The Wildlife Trusts, Landscapes for Life, and National Parks UK.