Time spent surrounded by nature is time well-spent. Photo credit: bigstockphoto.com
Your cultural background and society that you live in influences many aspects of your daily life. For example, western medicine typically relies heavily on surgery, radiation and medication while some eastern cultures embrace acupuncture and herbal remedies. Americans have come to expect that when they see their health care provider for an ailment, they will receive a prescription for a medication. Imagine your surprise if your primary care provider handed you a prescription indicating you should engage in 30 minutes of physical activity in a park-like setting several days a week!
Health care providers in the United States are increasing their use of the unconventional but effective practice of prescribing Ecotherapy. Ecotherapy as it is termed refers to growth and healing by interacting with nature. It is a version of Shinrin-Yoku, a Japanese practice also described as “forest bathing”. The term was first introduced in a 1996 book authored by Howard Clinebell, “Ecotherapy: Healing Ourselves, Healing the Earth” in which he uses the terms Ecotherapy or green therapy to describe strategies helpful in dealing with a variety of modern stressors. The Rev. Dr. Howard J. Clinebell was an ordained Methodist minister and pioneer in pastoral care and counseling who taught pastoral psychology at the School of Theology in Claremont, California.
Clinebell was a well-respected teacher, therapist, and scholar among pastoral counselors around the world having authored numerous books on the subject of pastoral counseling. In his book on Ecotherapy, Clinebell posits that in order to be healthy, we as humans need to be intimately connected to nature. He offers suggestions for how to engage people in the practice of eco-therapy and eco-education and to promote eco-bonding. These suggestions are both theoretical by using theoretical therapeutic foundations and practical by using concrete examples of what an eco-therapy intervention might look like. He describes ways parents, teachers, medical professionals, mental health professionals, and clergy can help others to live more proactively and spiritually with nature.
Ecotherapy often involves nature walks where patients are instructed to focus on key elements such as the sound of water in streams or rivers, sound of chirping birds and sights of trees, leaves and wildlife. Healthcare providers are incorporating Ecotherapy in their treatment regimens for a range of conditions, including anxiety and depression, attention deficit disorder and chronic illness such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
Building on the concept of Ecotherapy, Park Rx America is a non-profit organization whose mission is to decrease the burden of chronic disease, increase health and happiness, and foster environmental stewardship, by prescribing Nature during the routine delivery of healthcare. Dr. Robert Zarr, medical director of Park RX America, works to "make it easy" for healthcare providers to prescribe park visits to their patients. “We work with the doctors, nurses, and health care providers around the country and show them why it’s so relevant to prescribe parks and how easy it is to do, so that they can make it a part of their daily routine,” says Dr. Zarr.
If you grew up on a farm or live on one now, you are most likely an unknowing beneficiary of Ecotherapy. Daily you spend hours outside in all sorts of weather. You experience the gradual shift of the seasons and are very well – attuned to the subtleties of changes in your environment.
Ecotherapy doesn’t necessitate a visit to your healthcare provider or an actual prescription and is easy to initiate. No matter where you live, you can get started today. Make plans to bundle up and get outside for at least 30 minutes every day. Chances are in a few days you will start to see benefits!