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8 scientifically proven benefits of Ecotherapy

Ecotherapy, also known as nature therapy or green therapy, refers to the practice of using nature and the outdoors to improve mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Spending time in natural environments has numerous benefits for individuals, and ecotherapy harnesses these benefits in a structured therapeutic approach.



Alongside my clinical room practice and remote offering, I offer clients the opportunity to meet in green or outdoor spaces. There are many benefits which research has consistently supported, and my clients have voiced positive experiences of the outside setting.


Here are some of the benefits echoed by research:


1. Reduced stress


Nature has a calming effect on the mind and body. Being in natural settings, such as forests, parks, or gardens, can help reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and decrease levels of cortisol (a stress hormone). Multiple studies have shown that spending time in nature can reduce stress levels and improve mental well-being. For example, a study involving 90 university students, published in the Environment and Behaviour Journal (2020), found that participants who engaged in nature walks reported improvement in mood compared to watching nature on screens or conducting physical exercise.


2. Improved mental health


Ecotherapy has been found to be beneficial for individuals experiencing various mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Spending time in nature can enhance mood, increase self-esteem, and alleviate symptoms of these conditions. A systematic review published in 2021, examined 50 nature-based studies and concluded that ecotherapy interventions, such as forest therapy or gardening....." are effective for improving mental health outcomes in adults, including those with pre-existing mental health problems"


3. Enhanced physical health


Engaging in outdoor activities as part of ecotherapy can contribute to improved physical health. Walking, hiking, gardening, and other nature-based activities provide exercise, promote cardiovascular health, and boost overall fitness levels. Studies have shown the benefits of green spaces on physical health, with an associated significant decrease in blood pressure and heart rate, indicating cardiovascular health benefits. One study in 2020 in Greater Glasgow with 110 respondents noted numerous benefits with an emphasis on improvements in physical health.


4. Increased resilience


Nature offers opportunities for challenge and growth. Overcoming obstacles in outdoor settings can help individuals develop resilience and coping skills. Facing and overcoming challenges and improving confidence and self-esteem in other areas of life. A meta-analysis of 10 UK studies involving 1252 participants, found significant improvement by participants with their self-esteem and for both men and women. Young people also reported the greatest change in self-esteem.


5. Connection and social support


Ecotherapy offers opportunities to bring people together, fostering social connections and support among participants. Engaging in nature-based activities together promotes a sense of community, encourages communication and teamwork, and reduces feelings of isolation. In 2013, the charity Mind piloted an ecotherapy programme called Grow to promote green activities to treat mild to severe mental health issues among adults aged 25 – 65. Participants reported a sense of belonging and connectedness.


6. Restoration and rejuvenation

Spending time in natural environments allows for the restoration and rejuvenation of mental and emotional resources. Nature provides a break from the demands and stimuli of daily life, allowing individuals to relax, recharge, and improve overall well-being. Improved cognitive function: Interactions with nature can enhance cognitive function and attention restoration. Research published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology in 2021, showed that exposure to natural environments can improve symptoms of burnout and stress-related symptoms.


7. Increased awareness and mindfulness


Nature has a way of capturing our attention and engaging our senses. Ecotherapy encourages mindfulness and being fully present in the natural environment. This mindful awareness can help reduce rumination, improve focus, and cultivate a greater sense of gratitude and appreciation. In the book, Therapeutic Impact of Engagement in Green Spaces (2023), the authors provided a comparison between passive and active engagement with nature. The findings suggested that passive (‘simply experiencing nature’) is just as effective and offers benefits to psychological and physiological health.


8. Being part of something bigger than us


Ecotherapy fosters a deeper connection and appreciation for the natural world. Through engaging with nature, as one of my clients put it,

‘is an opportunity to look outwards rather than inwards, step out of my head, see life around me, and be thankful to be alive’.


Ecotherapy has so much to offer, and I would encourage clients to consider it alongside other therapeutic practices to aid self exploration and growth. In addition, it is always advisable to work with a trained and qualified healthcare professional or therapist to ensure efficacy and suitable application.


For further information about this blog post or any other counselling related topics please contact Wellness Link - https://www.wellnesslink.co.uk/contact










Kemi Fadero is a Wellbeing Consultant, Counsellor and Coach based in Cambridge, UK. Kemi works with individuals and organisations offering, virtual and in-person coaching and counselling services, helping individuals seeking to overcome emotional distress and effectively tackle life challenges.

She provides well-being consultation and

coaching for organisations and implementing well-being programs.












References

Barton, J., & Pretty, J. (2010). What is the best dose of nature and green exercise for improving mental health? A multi-study analysis. Environmental Science & Technology, 44(10), 3947-3955.


Coventry, P. A., Brown, J. E., Pervin, J., Brabyn, S., Pateman, R., Breedvelt, J., ... & White, P. L. (2021). Nature-based outdoor activities for mental and physical health: Systematic review and meta-analysis. SSM-population health, 16, 100934.


Mackay, G. J., & Neill, J. T. (2010). The effect of “green exercise” on state anxiety and the role of exercise duration, intensity, and greenness: A quasi-experimental study. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 11(3), 238-245.


Stepansky, K., Delbert, T., & Bucey, J. C. (2023). Therapeutic Impact of Engagement in Green Spaces.


Olafsdottir, G., Cloke, P., Schulz, A., Van Dyck, Z., Eysteinsson, T., Thorleifsdottir, B., & Vögele, C. (2020). Health benefits of walking in nature: A randomized controlled study under conditions of real-life stress. Environment and behavior, 52(3), 248-274.


Van den Berg, A. E., & Beute, F. (2021). Walk it off! The effectiveness of walk and talk coaching in nature for individuals with burnout-and stress-related complaints. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 76, 101641.


Wilson, N., Fleming, S., Jones, R., Lafferty, K., Cathrine, K., Seaman, P., & Knifton, L. (2010). Green shoots of recovery: The impact of a mental health ecotherapy programme. Mental Health Review Journal, 15(2), 4-14.



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