What is Nature-Based Therapy?

Humans’ disconnection from nature seems to be an ever increasing global challenge as our world becomes more technologically advanced and urbanized. Theories from evolutionary psychology, such as the Biophilia Hypothesis, argue that early humans were immersed in the natural world for millions of years and that a detachment from nature seen in modern humans is a source of psychological distress. The therapeutic properties of time spent in natural environments are becoming more well known and in response, mental health therapists have begun to harness nature’s restorative capacity by challenging convention and offering therapy outdoors.

What is EcoTherapy?

Ecotherapy is the name given to a form of experiential therapy that incorporates counselling interventions in the natural world to improve the client’s growth and development. There are wide ranges of treatment programs, which aim to improve mental and physical well-being through doing outdoor activities in nature. Examples include nature-based meditations, physical exercise in natural settings, horticultural therapy, adventure therapy, conservation activities and nature-based therapy.

What does Nature-Based Therapy look like?

The concept of Nature-Based Therapy combines the inherent benefits of being in nature with a benefits of a therapy session with a trained counsellor. Nature is viewed as a healing partner in the counselling process. The outdoor environment has the ability to encourage different affects in relation to internal worlds. For example, a wooded forest can feel comforting to some while to others this might symbolize a fear they are challenged with. While different therapists will conduct a Nature-Based sessions differently, the concept is similar. This could look like a walk and talk session in a natural setting to applying metaphors from the natural environment to their current life situation.

Benefits

Nature-Based Therapy is an effective means to boost mental wellness and has many psychological, physiological, and social benefits. The psychological effects of therapy in nature include lower blood pressure and research shows that exposure to nature will have profound impact in the decreasing of cortisol levels which can lower stress levels. As well, research also points to increased resilience, improved self-esteem and increased capacity to engage socially with other members of their community and society at large. Natural light, fresh air, exposure to trees and plants seem to improve many people’s outlook on life in a positive manner. One positive aspect of a Nature-Based approach for when an individual is depressed involves how people often retreat into indoor spaces, isolating themselves from the world around them. Using nature based therapy can help people to receive the benefits of being outdoors while still engaging in therapy in a less intimidating environment than a traditional office setting. The calming effect of nature makes it the perfect backdrop for a counselling session.

5 Benefits of Nature Therapy Infographic.png

Imagine being outside with a blue sunny, sky while you feel the soft snow beneath your skis and you feel the wind on your face.  Any one that downhill or cross country skis will tell you that skiing makes you feel healthy and happy. But while the physical benefits of being outside in nature and skiing are obvious, it has only been in recent studies that science have proved that the mental benefits of snow sports are just as valuable. A study led by Stanford University found that city dwellers have a 20% higher risk of depression than rural residents and a 40% increased risk of mood disorders. 

No stranger to finding creative ways to connect people to nature, Heather Hendrie is a Squamish based clinician who offers Ski Therapy in addition to her regular clinical practice. As an avid skier, former ski instructor and outdoor guide, Heather hopes to add ski therapy sessions to her suite of offerings this winter.  Heather became interested in the healing power of nature through her healing journey, where nature provided great relief and a sense of perspective leading her to pursue a degree in Clinical Mental Health Counselling, specializing in Wilderness Therapy.  Ski therapy seems a good fit for Hendrie, who made headlines when she created the “Lifts of Love” event in Banff.  An annual singles speed dating event held at Mount Norquay. It follows naturally that she’d take her therapeutic work to the chairlifts and groomed trails.   I caught up with Heather to discuss this interesting form of therapy.  

What is Ski Therapy? 

Heather describes Ski Therapy as a playful, Nature Based  way to connect with a therapist while moving one’s body.  The therapeutic process is at work while breathing fresh air, taking in the surrounding scene and engaging in bi lateral movement that is proving to support significant reductions in the levels of both bodily distress and emotional stress. These combined emotional physical and physiological benefits could make ski therapy a real 2 for 1 type practice, and ideal for people who’d like to try a novel approach in therapy. 

Where do you offer Ski Therapy? 

Heather hopes to offer sessions through maintained cross country skiing trails at the Whistler Olympic Park in the Callaghan Valley.  Making this therapeutic modality accessible to more people is currently a passion of Heather’s, as skiing has historically been such an exclusive pursuit. 

Do you need to know how to ski?

While Heather’s background is as a guide and instructor, the focus of ski therapy is healing and relief from symptoms, rather than the technical aspects of the sport. 

ski therapy 3

What theoretical approaches do you use? 

Heather applies a Transpersonal, humanistic, mindfulness-based, experiential approach to her work, inspired by such leaders as Rogers, Maslow, Van Der Kolk and Peter Levine.  

How do you manage confidentiality with others around? 

Confidentiality looks different outdoors than when sessions are conducted within the confines of an office, but fortunately, the field of therapy is increasingly being de-stigmatized. That said, Heather mitigates any concern in this area by always addressing consent and confidentiality with a client before beginning work together.  

 

Interested in learning more about Ski Therapy? Check out https://heatherhendrie.com/