Ecotherapy, earth-centered therapy or green therapy refers to healing and growth nurtured by interaction with the earth.
There is a difference between ecotherapy which includes work with the body and ecopsychology, the study of the psychological relations with nature providing a solid theoretical, cultural, and critical foundation for ecotherapeutic practice. Experts regard ecotherapy as applied ecopsychology. As such, Ecotherapy employs different methods and practices in systematic attempts to reconnect the psyche and the body with the terrestrial sources of all healing.
Ecotherapy is also different from psychotherapy in its focus on transforming our relationship to the natural world. Psychotherapy aims to help individuals understand and create meaning from emotional and psychological difficulties they are experiencing. Ecotherapy, utilising psychotherapeutic principles, forms a relationship to the natural world in order to enable us to make sense of our inner emotions and life experiences. We may feel depressed, anxious, lost and alone, overwhelmed by our thoughts and feelings and unable to draw upon previous ways of coping. In short, psychotherapy in combination with the natural environment allows us to develop new ways of understanding ourselves and feel integrated in our lives.
Ecotherapists believe that nonhuman forms of life have a right to exist for their own needs and purposes, and that this includes leaving plant and animal ecocommunities intact and protecting the needs, health, and sense of agency of our animal companions.
Ecotherapists regard our work as part of an ongoing collective effort to build just and sustainable communities in which all forms of life can delight and mature.
As a term defining nature-based methods of psychological and physical healing, ecotherapy points to the need to reinvent psychotherapy and psychiatry as sciences related to the human-nature relationship. Ecotherapy takes into account both the traditional indigenous wisdom and the modern scientific understandings of the universe. This approach defends the point of view that people are connected with, embedded in, inseparable from the rest of nature. Grasping this fact shifts our understanding of how to heal the human psyche and the dysfunctional human-nature relationship. In fact it has become clear that what happens to nature for good or ill impacts people and vice versa. And the process leads to the development of new methods of individual and community psychotherapeutic diagnosis and treatment.
Relationships of healing with nature and Earth require us to acknowledge our participation in industrial, governmental, or organizational actions that harm the environment and to seek alternative actions whenever possible. This relationship holds cultural, ecological, epistemological, spiritual diversity to be a precious source of enrichment, value, and, ultimately, survival. The more diverse the ecosystem, the greater its resiliency, creativity, and resourcefulness.
According to Howard Clinebell, who introduced the term Ecotherapy in 1996, an ecotherapist should take guidance from an Ecological Circle of three mutually interacting operations or dynamics:
- Inreach: receiving and being nurtured by the healing presence of nature, place, Earth.
- Upreach: the actual experience of this more-than-human vitality as we relocate our place within the natural world.
- Outreach: activities with other people that care for the planet.
Here are some examples of ecotherapy research findings, quoted in different sources – “Connection to Nature Vital to Our Mental and Physical Health”, “Equine Therapy Helps Withdrawn Vets Reconnect, “immersion in Nature Makes us Nicer”, “71% Report Depression Decrease After Green Walk”, “How the City Hurts Your Brain…and What You Can Do About It”, “Drug Addiction: Environmental Conditions Play Major Role In Effective Treatment And Preventing Relapses, Animal Study Shows”.
Note that a certificate in ecotherapy is not a license to do psychotherapy, but ecotherapy techniques are being taught to practicing psychotherapists, whose concentration on mending relationships and inner conflicts benefits from placement in the wider ecological context in which all human activity unfolds.
Keep also in mind that although ecotherapy interventions tend to be much less invasive than drugs or psychotherapy, ecotherapist should always put the well-being of clients first and carefully monitor potential safety and health concerns.
Understanding one’s existence as such is always an understanding of the world (Martin Heidegger). Photo : © Megan Jorgensen