The Many Types of Ecotherapy – Activities, Programs, and Examples

There are many different types of ecotherapy activities that can help us heal from the modern-day ailments that cause chaos in our lives. We’ll introduce each one and give several examples to help you determine which type may be best for your practice or individual use.

I am sure you will find one, most likely several types of ecotherapy that will benefit you or someone close to you.

Whether you are struggling with the complexities of this life or just want to have a closer connection to nature, continue reading. 

9 Types of Ecotherapy Activities and Practices

Ecotherapy is an evolving field. And new programs and activities are introduced all the time. While this is not a formal classification, there are several groupings of popular treatments to explore.

We hope this list will give you some concrete and practical ways to use ecotherapy to heal through the power of nature.

1. Horticulture Therapy

Horticulture therapy is a person or persons getting involved in gardening or other plant-based activities. With a trained therapist’s help, you develop a therapeutic strategy based on your specific goals and results.

The goal may be to take care of something (other than yourself) and watch it grow. Another goal could be to work with other people in a community garden to achieve a sense of belonging. Or the goal may simply be to walk among the plants and let their calming presence wash over you. It all depends on the need of the individual.

girl in a red coat walking through a botanical garden

Essentially the therapist will guide you towards a relationship with plants. The environment might be an existing garden, or you could do it in your own home with indoor gardening. 

The focus on the creation and regeneration of plants has a calming effect on your moods, relieving anxiety and stress.

More Examples of Horticultural Theapy

Therapeutic gardens are used in many health care facilities and psychotherapy treatment offices. It is also quite easy to experience the healing power of plants on your own. Here are a few examples of horticultural therapy:

  • Sensory garden designed to help autistic children
  • Senior center with coordinated garden activities
  • Occupational therapy such as working in a community garden to improve physical activity and motor skills
  • Caring for an indoor succulent garden
  • Create a small meditation garden in your backyard for reflection and prayer
  • A quiet walk through a botanical garden

As you progress, the results will become more and more fulfilling. This leads to a desire to learn more about the relationship between yourself and plants, inspiring you to become closer to nature. 

Some of the benefits of horticulture therapy are:

  • Elevated moods
  • Creating a sense of purpose
  • Decreased risk factors related to our immune systems
  • Slow signs of early dementia.

For seniors, the practice is therapeutic in elevating motor skills, a great physical benefit.

Two disorders that seem to be popping up more and more these days are substance abuse and PTSD. Horticulture therapy has been used successfully to treat both.

2. Forest Therapy or Forest Bathing

young woman walking through the trees engaging in forest bathing which is a type of ecotherapy

Forest therapy is the practice of immersing yourself in a forest among the trees. The purpose is to create wellness and healing through direct interaction with nature.

There are two goals for communities that promote forest therapy. The first is to offer a direct connection with nature and leave the modern, technology-focused world behind. 

The second goal is to give the community citizens a stronger appreciation for the natural world, hoping that they will also become advocates to protect the surrounding forests. 

In Japanese, they call this, Shinrin-Yoku which translates into forest Bathing. Shinrin-Yoku originated in the 1980s as a therapy. 

The therapy is an open-ended therapy that means there is no apparent end, but it should be a life-long practice.

Participants are encouraged to create a reciprocal relationship with nature. As you learn to benefit nature, you will understand how nature benefits you.

This therapy has been effective in treating cardiovascular, immune, mood and cognition, anxiety, and stress disorders.

Some popular forest bathing ecotherapy activities include: 

  • Taking a guided tour through a Shinrin-Yoku forest
  • Enjoying a nature walk
  • Meditating in the woods
  • Hiking and camping
  • Wandering through the wilderness

Forest bathing can be an organized event or a less formal practice among family and friends. The essential component of all the activities is to stay in the moment. 

Leave the cell phones and cameras off so you can truly be present in the experience. Keep your awareness focused on the ecosystems around you. Listen to the wind and wildlife, feel the ground beneath your feet and take in all the forest has to offer.

3. Conservation Programs

team of conservationists cleaning up the litter on the beach

There is a popular phrase in the conservation communities,

Heal the land, and the land will heal you.”

The therapy consists of involvement in a program to produce, maintain and preserve a natural green space or forestry area.

Using conservation efforts as a form of therapy is one of the easiest ways to re-engage with your community. Many community programs are founded on specific conservation efforts such as saving the turtles or preserving our national forests. 

The simple act of taking care of something larger than yourself can foster feelings of pride, accomplishment, and a sense of working for the greater good. 

Some good examples of conservation activities include:

  • Cleanup of your local park or hiking trails.
  • Wildlife conservation to protect or rehabilitate the animals
  • Educating the public through outreach or hosting community events
  • Protecting a natural habitat such as the wetlands, rivers, or beaches
  • Joining an International volunteer group such as Goabroad.com

Using conservation programs as a form of therapy is especially rewarding for anyone that may feel isolated from other people. The nature of the work is built on community engagement and working together. And since the focus is on the project instead of the individual, it can be less intimidating to get started. 

The therapy you get is also reflected directly onto the community. The results of conservation-based ecotherapy have proven to be very therapeutic.

The benefits of supporting nature while benefiting the community and people have effectively treated related social issues like anger, stress, and anxiety.

4. Adventure Therapy

Ecotherapy through adventure. This is actually as fun as it sounds. You are just taking nature-based therapy and engaging in a healthy, fun activity.

kayaker padding down the river in a line with large rock formations on either side

Popular adventure focused ecotherapy activities include whitewater rafting, canoeing, hiking, or skiing. Virtually any activity in nature can be utilized as adventure therapy. What makes it therapy is recognizing, defining, and quantifying the benefit.  

You can engage in these activities on your own. However, it is more beneficial to involve a therapist who can help you feel comfortable in an activity, then identify the benefits by analyzing why and how it works. The goal may be to develop confidence, learn to trust in a higher power (or other people such as your guides), or simply letting go of your internal struggles, if only for a little while.

Adventure therapy is often used to treat people recovering from addictions. Young adults who have attention deficit disorder can benefit from this type of ecotherapy. It is also helpful in treating anxiety, depression, and a range of other mental illnesses. 

5. Wilderness Therapy

man with arms outstreched in the wilderness

By deciding on a wilderness program, you have taken the road to challenge yourself within nature. You limit your access to all the things modern society provides and become dependent on nature and what she offers alone. You will learn new practical survival and coping skills, free from an environment of distractions or temptations. 

A wilderness therapy program creates feelings of self-worth, accomplishment, and confidence. Nature will challenge you on every level. Overcoming those challenges rewards you with patience and empowerment. You should leave the experience with the confidence to overcome any obstacle.

Wilderness therapy can help treat many of the same ailments as adventure therapy. Choosing between wilderness vs. adventure therapy depends mainly on the individual’s goals and the recommendation of the therapist. 

Some examples of wilderness ecotherapy activities include: 

  • Guided multi-day hikes at a Wilderness Retreat
  • A solo hike through the Appalachian trail
  • Attending a Nature Meditation Retreat
  • Backpacking through the mountains

6. Green Exercise

Green exercise is working out or exercising in nature, not painting yourself green, and hitting the gym.

three women in a mediation pose outdoors practicing green exercise

If you’re a runner, hiker, or enjoy walking, there is a big difference when you do this in nature instead of the city. The beneficial effects of exercising in nature (green exercise) include relieving stress, anxiety, or maybe just getting over an argument.   

You can see the effects by looking at the people’s expressions doing some form of exercise in nature. It might be just a walk or a run or could be sliding down a zip line. Have a close look at their contentment; it’s the same contentment you will feel when engaged in this kind of activity.

In a research paper published by Jo Barton and Jules Pretty, they evaluated the effect of green exercise in improving the participants’ overall mood and self-worth. The report covered ten individual studies and over 1200 participants. It demonstrated an immediate improvement even when engaging in green exercise even for a short period of time. 

An interesting finding of the paper was that the effects were significantly enhanced when they performed the exercise near a body of water. 

7. Nature Arts and Crafts

Getting out into nature to create or using natural objects to create art is all a part of this type of therapy. You might be using wild reeds to weave baskets or building furniture out of driftwood. 

Doing something that you love in a natural environment has so many health benefits. Craft projects are a great way to improve your hand-eye coordination and inspire creativity. As an added benefit, you will also enjoy the healing power of being outdoors and working with the natural elements. 

Nature arts and craft projects are popular kids’ activities at summer camps and after-school programs. For adults, you may find a flower arranging course at your local library or flower shop. A local art studio is another good source for finding instructor-led nature art projects. 

For example, a honey-based watercolor project is offered by the Wild Roots Studio. See the video below for inspiration or to attend their virtual workshop. 

8. Animal-Assisted Therapy

Animal-assisted therapy can be as simple as having a dog or cat visit you in a hospital. Or it may be a more formal session such as equine therapy. 

Establishing a connection with an animal who is dependent on you has positive results in treating mood, anxiety, and addiction disorders. 

Working with animals has many uplifting effects. A few of the practical applications include: 

  • Reduce recovery times after an injury
  • Improve mood and well-being
  • Encourage interaction for seniors and the disabled 
  • Build trust and confidence
  • Assist in motor skills and physical rehabilitation
young girl bonding with a horse in an equine therapy session

Equine-assisted therapy (EAP) or horse therapy is especially useful in treating people with disabilities. When working with horses, students engage in a routine and practice the same skills repeatedly. The repetition is particularly helpful for people with learning disabilities.

Animals are very perceptive to human emotions and physical weakness. The beautiful thing about allowing animals a role in therapy is that you know there is no judgment. Animals accept whoever you are with joy.

9. Care Farming

Care farms welcome the outside public to come and participate in farming activities such as planting, taking care of the animals, collecting eggs, or general maintenance. 

older couple working on a large vegetable garden demonstrating the care farming ecotherapy activity

Also known as social farming, it is especially useful to connect people that may feel isolated in the community. It allows participants to be productive outdoors and contribute to the seasonal life of the farm. Students report dramatic improvements in attitude, engagement with others, and overall outlook in life. 

As with many other ecotherapy types, care farming helps with mood disorders such as ADHD, anxiety, or depression. It helps treat people with addictions, social disorders, and many other mental health concerns. 

This practice is much more widespread in Europe, particularly the Netherlands and Norway. The UK, Japan, and the United States have also slowly started introducing this form of therapy to their patients. 

Care farming is now being studied for the treatment of dementia. Therapeutic activities are designed around the running of the farm based on the individual’s abilities. This type of treatment helps to encourage interaction and physical effort. 

Many care farms are supported through the government or charity organizations, such as Social Farms and Gardens, located in the UK.  

Which Type of Ecotherapy Is Best? 

With any of the ecotherapy programs, you are taking advantage of a program that suits both your physical abilities and your desire to try something new as a therapy.

I am not in any way trying to create a comparison between any of the ecotherapy programs. I only wish to give you as much information as possible to encourage you to take the next step and get involved.

Hopefully, you will find the type of ecotherapy activity that works best for you. The nice thing about nature therapy is there are no known interactions. You should feel free to combine treatments and choose the one that works best for you. 

I hope that this article leads you to a more positive path, whether your journey is personal or a quest to help others.

Summary

Are you starting to see a common theme here? All types of ecotherapy programs use nature as a healing tool. 

Instead of using pharmaceuticals or mechanical solutions such as light or shock therapy, ecotherapy is a 100% natural approach. And sometimes the simplest solution is best. 

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