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Some therapists now offer unconventional form of treatment with surprising benefits: 'It connects me to being human'

"It's very easy to just relax and talk about things."

"It's very easy to just relax and talk about things."

Photo Credit: iStock

In an increasingly busy and tech-driven world, a new kind of mental health treatment called ecotherapy is helping patients and therapists alike connect to nature.

Over the last several decades, but particularly the last several years, more and more psychotherapists, psychiatrists, therapists, counselors, and social workers have begun incorporating nature into their treatments. These approaches range from simply conducting talk therapy sessions outdoors to going hiking, going skiing, and even building fires.

An article from the New York Times quoted one patient who's been doing hiking therapy since 2022. "It connects me to being human, to being alive," he said. "Not being subject to the world, but being a part of it."

Therapists agree — the technique shows promise, especially for people who are hesitant about traditional therapy or interested in something that doesn't feel one-size-fits-all. It's the reason why groups such as Maryland's Center for Nature Informed Therapy or New York's Boda Therapy have been growing in recent years.

"By blending the healing properties of the natural world with proven modalities such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Nature Informed Therapy addresses a wide range of mental health concerns, promoting overall well-being, life satisfaction, and a harmonious relationship with the environment," the Center for Nature Informed Therapy's website explains.

The benefits aren't just anecdotal, either. A 2023 study of forest bathing, the Japanese practice of taking a mindful stroll in the woods, found that taking such walks significantly reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety. In fact, simply just hearing birdsong has been shown to soothe anxiety.

Another study found that engaging in community gardening decreased stress. Even just living near green spaces has been shown to slow the aging process.

The mental benefits of engaging with nature are still significant even when patients are indoors. The simple approach of incorporating wood into the decor of hospital waiting rooms has been shown to calm visitors and make the experience less stressful.

Another ecotherapy patient, Amy Fuggi, can't imagine returning to traditional office-based therapy.

"When you're walking around, you've got the fresh air and you've got all this openness," she told the New York Times. "It's very easy to just relax and talk about things."

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