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Ecotherapy: Nature Is Good Medicine

little girl flying kite as ecotherapy

Getty/evgenyatamanenko

Taking time to engage with nature is as close to a cure-all as you’ll find. Ecotherapy can make you feel happier, less fatigued, and more at peace.

My mom never used the word “ecotherapy,” but I think she had an intuitive understanding of what it means.

If we were bored, mom would say, “Go out and sit on a fence post.” If we were fighting or fussing, she would say, “Go outside and run around the house three times.” If she needed a mid-day break, she would water the garden. Many of her suggestions and habits for dealing with annoyances or frustrations focused on going outdoors. She seemed to know what research is now telling us—that nature is a good medicine for mental health.

A quick search on the Internet will attest to a growing interest in ecotherapy or nature therapy. Accessing the therapy that nature provides can be a quite simple or complicated process. The simple form is something you can do on your own. The more complicated process involves guidance from a psychologist, psychotherapist, or counselor. Some of what you might do on your own relates to my mom’s suggestions.

A fence separated the barnyard on the farm where I grew up from a tree-lined ditch. Sitting on a fence post involved just being still out in nature and noticing what was going on around me. Sitting on a fence post took me to a place outside of myself. I could see the shallow stream of water flowing through the ditch. I could hear the rustling of leaves as a breeze moved through the branches of the trees. Today, I read about sit spots in nature as a practice to cultivate awareness, to expand the senses, and to experience calmness. Mom sent us to the fence post to break the boredom. It worked.

I grew up with nine siblings. Fights, arguments, and teasing happened all the time. Mom was a wise person; she rarely stepped in the middle of our fights. She just sent us outside and told us to run around the house three times. By the time we did this, our reasons for fighting were often forgotten. Our grumpy moods were gone, and we were in a frame of mind to do something more productive than annoy each other. Today, many people turn to green exercise for similar results. They find that exercising outdoors makes them feel happier, less fatigued and angry, more peaceful and relaxed.

Mom believed that telling us to run around outdoors would stop the fighting. It did.

Mom loved her garden and the rose bushes in our yard. With a large family, she had little time for herself. But she was wise and knew that attending to her own needs was an important part of a busy life. So she took time to water the garden and smell the roses. Like I said, she was a wise woman. She was also a happy person.

Mom’s ecotherapy practices were simple but they worked. They’re still an important part of my life. I was introduced to another simple ecotherapy practice several years ago that’s backed up with impressive research by Miles Richardson and David Sheffield from the University of Derby. (Learn about the University of Derby Nature Connectedness Research Group.) Fifty people made a list of three good things in nature each day over a period of five consecutive days. Forty-two other people listed three factual things each day over five consecutive days. Before and after assessments showed that the people in the three-good-things group made significant and sustained increases in nature connectedness and psychological wellbeing. The other group did not. Nature connectedness and psychological well-being were positively linked. What this says is that nature makes a difference. Nature is good medicine for the body, mind, and spirit.

Want more ecotherapy ideas? Read “Engage in Nature's Healing Energies”


About the Author

Ruth Wilson

Ruth Wilson, Ph.D., is a retired educator who now works with the Children and Nature Network as curator of the Research Library. 

She also devotes her time to writing and consulting, especially on issues relating to children and nature. Wilson has written several books and numerous articles on these and other topics relating to the way humans interact with the rest of the natural world.

Click here for more!


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