Many health care researchers and practitioners say that ecotherapy (also known as green therapy, nature therapy, and earth-centered therapy) — a term coined by pastoral counselor Howard Clinebell in his 1996 book of the same name — can have regenerative powers, improving mood and easing anxiety, stress, and depression.
But that’s not all. Health care providers are also giving their patients “nature prescriptions” to help treat a variety of medical conditions, from post-cancer fatigue to obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Scientists have long known that sunlight can ease depression, especially seasonal affective disorder (SAD). New research is expanding those findings. A 2007 study from the University of Essex in the U.K., for example, found that a walk in the country reduces depression in 71% of participants. The researchers found that as little as five minutes in a natural setting, whether walking in a park or gardening in the backyard, improves mood, self-esteem, and motivation.
The growing interest in ecotherapy has even given rise to academic programs, such as one begun at John F. Kennedy University, which offers a graduate-level certificate in ecotherapy, an umbrella term that includes horticultural therapy, animal-assisted therapy, time stress management, and managing “eco-anxiety.”
John F. Kennedy University ecotherapy professor Craig Chalquist, PhD, co-author of Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind, has acknowledged that research has not proven that spending time in nature can prevent, treat, or cure any particular condition.
But a growing body of research offers a “hopeful picture” of the effectiveness of ecotherapy, Chalquist says.
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