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Healing the Split between Humans and Nature

Fall Tree
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Eco Healing: Restoration and Renewal in Nature

“Sometimes a tree tells you more than you can read in books.”  C.G. Jung


Advocate. C. G. Jung was an advocate for nature.  His philosophy about nature, technology, and modern life are captured in The Earth Has A Soul, a recent book edited by Meredith Sabini. As a therapist, Jung worried about humanity. Would we become disconnected from nature?  Would technology bring us indoors and begin to replace our outdoor experience? Would our constant emphasis on mastering the outer, material world, leave us deprived of our inner world and nature’s ability to teach and to heal? 

Prophectic People. Like many prophetic people, Jung’s concerns were to be reflected 40 years later in the early 1990s writings and research in what was to become the new field of ecopsychology

Ecopsychology. Ecopsychology (also called ecotherapy) arose because therapist and psychologists were finding (1) a disconnect between human beings and nature.  People were also reporting that (2) they were distressed by the environmental degradation and bothered by a sense of helplessness to deal with it.  These two issues generated the creation of ecopsychology by a small group of psychologist.

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Healing the Split between Humans and Nature:

A goal of ecopsychology and its related fields of ecotherapy, eco spirituality, and eco healing is to help heal the split between humans and nature on a personal and collective level. Although Theodore Roszak offered the first public definition of ecopsychology in his 1992 book, Voice of the Earth, many people in diverse fields were concerned about the split and working on similar designs for healing this divide. For example, starting in the 1980s many Christian churches became concerned that humanity was not being a good steward of God’s earth. Their commitment to the environment developed into an eco spirituality movement. In 1984, the health care industry was awakened to the important role exposure to nature played in hospital recovery. Researcher Robert Ulrich published his results indicating that people whose hospital room-window had a view of nature rather than a brick wall healed faster, required less medication, and could be discharged earlier. In the 1980s Joanna Macy, an eco philosopher and environmentalist, began conducting nature-centered retreats to raise awareness about environmental degradation and to empower people to reverse the trend.  All of this was taking place in the larger contexts of a worldwide concern culminating in the United Nation’s 2nd summit on environmental protection and social-economic development.  Over 100 heads of state attended the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.  Seventeen years later, Jung’s concerns are also reflected in the 4th big UN meeting on Climate Change in Copenhagen, Denmark, Dec 7 – 18, 2009 (see information below on Climate Change.)

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Inner Climate Change:

While governments and non-governmental organizations debate what to do about climate change on a global scale, people suffering from depression, anxiety, or stress can work on creating inner climate change. Nature is an ally in bringing about these changes. Human beings have been using time in nature for relaxation and personal growth for decades. For example, parks and recreation departments maintain facilities and programs for relaxation, preservation, and learning. Programs such as Outward Bound, Vision Quests for Leadership, and other outdoor-based education have helped thousands develop character, decision-making capacities, and self-confidence. Research and these programs’ on-going popularity all over the world continues to demonstrate their effectiveness. Eco Healing promises another level of contribution:  the renewal of our spirits. Click here for more info on Inner and Outer Climate Change.

Green Grass
Summer Fields, Life Science Foundation

Eco-Healing: Green Exercise:

Although people have long believed that spending time in nature was helpful, what real evidence do we have that spending time in nature could help and heal you?  Mind, a British mental health charity organization, conducted research to answer this question for us. Their first study compared the impact of walking in a country park with a walk in an indoor shopping center on people suffering from depression, stress, and/or anxiety.  Their startling results are:

First Mind Study Results:

  • 71%   reported decreased levels of depression after the green walk
  • 22%   felt their depression increased after walking through indoor shopping center
  • 45%   only experienced a decrease in depression when walking indoors
  • 71%   felt less tense after the green walk
  • 50%   felt their tension had increased after shopping center walk
  • 90%   had an increase in self-esteem after the green walk
  • 44%   said their self-esteem had decreased after window-shopping indoors

Intrigued with this result, Mind conducted a 2nd research study that focused on people who join Mind’s green activities regularly.  The results confirmed that green exercises have a positive impact on people regardless of how often or for what purpose people are engaged in green exercise. The results are:

Second Mind Study Results:

  • 90%   said the combination of nature and exercise had the greatest impact on them.
  • 94%   said that green activities had benefitted their mental health, especially lifting depression.

AMAZING FACTS; Green Exercise Results:

  • 71%   reported decreased levels of depression after the green walk
  • 22%   felt their depression increased after walking through indoor shopping center
  • 45%   only experienced a decrease in depression when walking indoors
  • 71%   felt less tense after the green walk
  • 50%   felt their tension had increased after shopping center walk
  • 90%   had an increase in self-esteem after the green walk
  • 44%   said their self-esteem had decreased after window shopping indoors
  • 90%   said the combination of nature and exercise had the greatest impact on them.
  • 94%   said that green activities had benefitted their mental health, especially lifting

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Results for Everyone:

These results are relevant for everyone.  Many of us do not suffer from clinical depression, anxiety, or stress, but today’s fast-paced world can induce unhealthy levels of stress, anxiety, and depression in everyday life.  If you experience these symptoms, nature can help restore balance, harmony, and contentment to your life.

Mind’s motivation for the study was two-fold.  First the use of prescription drugs for these problems went up 6% in only a few years.  In fact 93% of British physicians prescribe drugs for their patients coping with anxiety, stress, or depression.  The second reason for the study was that those patients who don’t want to use drug therapy to assist them face up to a 4 year wait to receive Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.  Mind was looking for another, ideally inexpensive, solution and nature delivered it.

To explore the issue further, Mind also studied the positive impact nature has on mental health patients assigned to European Farm Care treatment centers.  At these treatment facilities, mental health patients engage in agriculture activities such as tilling the land, planting, and harvesting. Farmers are paid for taking part in the program creating a win-win situation for farmers, patients, and mental healthcare professionals.. The program has proven so successful that Netherlands has 400 Care Farms in contrast to 43 in England.  The USA is way behind Europe in offering this treatment option.

According to other relevant research, prison populations and hospital patients are also positively impacted by exposure to nature. For example, prisoners whose windows overlooked farm lands rather than prison walls or yards report 24% fewer sick visits.  As previously stated, nature has a positive impact on patients able to look at nature through their windows instead of brick walls or blank skies. 

Taken as a totality, these results are irrefutable.  Therefore, Mind made 8 major recommendations to the UK Healthcare Commission, Commission for Social Care Inspection and the Prisons Inspectorate, The first two recommendations are insightful for all of us:

  1. Eco-therapy should be recognized as a clinically-valid treatment for mental stress, and,
  2. Physicians should consider green exercise as a treatment option for every patient experiencing mental distress.

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Fall Scene
LSF Wetlands, home to egrets, blue herons, turtles and other wildlife.


You do not need a physician’s prescription to start taking advantage of Mind’s recommendations.  You can benefit from eco healing immediately.  You can participate in green exercise by adding time outdoors to your weekly or daily routine.  To learn more about eco healing, explore:

  • Ecotherapy: The Green Agenda for Mental Health, report issued by Mind
  • Ecotherapy:  Healing with Nature in Mind by Linda Buzzell and Craig Chalquist
  • Ecopsychology:  Restoring the Earth; Healing the Mind edited by Roszak, Gomes, and Kanner
  • Nature-Guided Therapy by George W. Burns
  • Nature and the Human Soul Nature and the Human Soul by Bill Plotkin


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