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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.

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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. 

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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/

The term “mindfulness” was defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.  This free challenge is for anyone who’s looking to add a little more calm into their daily life.  Mindfulness can help you to help you break down old thought patterns, tap into the present moment, and find your inner calm. It’s all about getting down to the basics of mindfulness in a fun and practical way.  Think of it as a self-development tool that helps you deal with things more mindfully on a daily basis. If you are new to mindfulness, this is a great way to see what it’s about.

How to get started?

Simple!  Just read each day’s challenge activity and spend the 5-10 mins needed to complete the challenge. Each day, try to do the next item listed.  It’s that easy.

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Day 1  Gratitude Challenge

Welcome to day 1!  To start out the mindfulness challenge, we are going to simply try to focus our attention on things that you are thankful for in your life. Research has linked gratitude with a wide range of benefits, including improving sleep patterns, feeling more optimistic, strengthening your immune system and feeling less lonely and isolated.

 

To start, find a comfortable place to sit and take 10 big deep breaths.  Your task today is to simple close your eyes and think of 5 things that you are thankful for. Think about people in your life, experiences you’ve had, good fortune that’s come your way, etc.  Or it could be as simple as a new shirt you bought.  Just think to yourself “I’m grateful for….” and come up with 5 items. An alternative is that you can write your 5 things down in a journal.   Finish off this challenge with 10 deep breaths.

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Day 2  Eating Mindfully Challenge

Today you are going to take some time to mindfully eat a single item of food.  Find a small food such as a grape, peanut, raisin, etc.  The objective of today is to spend the next few minutes paying attention to everything about that small bit of food. Notice the texture. What does it feel like?  Hold the item under your nose, and inhale naturally. With each in-breath, notice any aroma or smell that arises. Bring awareness also to any effect in your mouth or stomach. Now bring the  slowly up to your mouth, noticing how your hand and arm know exactly how and where to position it.  Place the item gently into your mouth, without yet chewing. Hold the item in your mouth for at a few seconds, exploring it with your tongue, feeling the sensations of having it there. Notice this pause and how it feels to take some time before eating the raisin. Next and with each small bite, feel your teeth going into the food and slowly chewing each bit of the food. This exercise should take you 5 to 10 minutes to get through that small piece of food.

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Day 3   The 54321 Grounding Challenge

Today’s mindfulness challenge involves using your senses to ground yourself. Find a comfortable place to position yourself then go through each number and calmly identify each of the items listed.

Take a deep breath to begin.

5 – See: Where ever you happen to be, look around for 5 things that you can see, and say them out loud. For example, you could say, I see the computer, I see the cup, I see the picture frame.

4 – Touch: Pay attention to your body and think of 4 things that you can feel, and say them out loud. For example, you could say, I feel my feet warm in my socks, I feel the hair on the back of my neck, or I feel the shirt against my shoulders.

3 – Hear: Listen for 3 sounds. It could be the sound of traffic outside, the sound of typing or the sound of your tummy rumbling. Say the three things out loud.

2 – Smell: Say two things you can smell. If you’re allowed to, it’s okay to move to another spot and sniff something. If you can’t smell anything at the moment or you can’t move, then name your 2 favorite smells.

1 – Taste: Say one thing you can taste. It may be the toothpaste from brushing your teeth, or a mint from after lunch. If you can’t taste anything, then say your favorite thing to taste.

Take another deep breath to end.

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Day 4    Mindful Seeing Challenge

This simple exercise requires a window with some kind of view to the outside world and a couple minutes to complete.  Your task is simply to comfortably position yourself looking out that window and observing and noticing everything that you see.  Paying attention to any trees or leaves that are moving. Notice the colours of the stop sign or street lights. Items moving in the wind. What shapes and patterns can you see in your view?  Try to see the world outside the window from the perspective of someone unfamiliar with these sights. The intention is to be aware and observant on the world around you.

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Day 5  Box Breathing Challenge

How much attention do you bring to your breathing? Practicing mindful, focused breathing, even for a few minutes a day reduces stress and promotes relaxation.  Slow, deep, rhythmic breathing causes a reflex stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which results in a reduction in the heart rate and relaxation of the muscles.

Today’s mindfulness challenge is a simple 4 count hold  breathing challenge. You begin by expelling all the air from your chest and then keep empty for a four count hold.  Then, perform your inhalation through the nose for four counts. Hold the air in your lungs for a four-count hold.  Maintain an expansive, open feeling even though you are not inhaling. When ready, release the hold and exhale smoothly through your nose for four counts. This is one circuit of the box-breathing practice.  Try to continue this breathing for 5 minutes.

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Interested in going more in depth into mindfulness?  Learn more:

Free 8 week course.  Online Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Course (MBSR)

Mindfulness Exercises   Free Online Mindfulness Courses

20 Reasons why Mindfulness is good for you   Mindfulness Meditation Benefits

To clarify, I assume you mean overeating or eating unhealthily because remember eating good food is helpful.

There are lots of better ways to handle stress! It’s great that you are asking this question because it shows that you want to make some changes in how you are coping. Overeating would be considered negative coping strategy. It works but it’s not a very good long term solution for handling stress. Finding some positive coping strategies is important so that you have some lifelong coping methods to deal with stress. This is usually dependent on the person and what makes someone feel better. Does talking to friends help? Taking a bath? Doing some art? We all need to find those things that we can do to make us feel better when we are stressed. Here’s a list of a few general things you can do. Try different things and add things as you find things work.  Most importantly, do those things when you are feeling stressed to help you out!   Wishing you all the best on your journey.

Stress

  • Keep a positive attitude.
  • Accept that there are events that you cannot control.
  • Be assertive instead of aggressive. Assert your feelings, opinions, or beliefs instead of becoming angry, defensive, or passive.
  • Learn and practice relaxation techniques; try meditation, yoga, or tai-chi for stress management.
  • Exercise regularly. Your body can fight stress better when it is fit.
  • Eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
  • Learn to manage your time more effectively.
  • Set limits appropriately and learn to say no to requests that would create excessive stress in your life.
  • Make time for hobbies, interests, and relaxation.
  • Get enough rest and sleep. Your body needs time to recover from stressful events.
  • Don’t rely on alcohol, drugs, or compulsive behaviors to reduce stress.
  • Seek out social support. Spend enough time with those you enjoy.
  • Seek treatment with a counselor or other mental health professional

How should I go about transferring colleges? I have been feeling extremely depressed and anxious. Will going to a new school help me grow and cope or should I stay and develop where I am at?

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This is a common thought when things are not going well at one place. Having been a counsellor in schools I’ve experienced many students that have changed schools due to the same feelings.

First off, it sounds like it’s been really hard for you. Going through depression and anxiety is not easy and with the stresses of school it can make it that much harder. I hope you’ve sought out some supports (schools usually have great counselling access for free) and have some positive coping tools to help you deal with what your going through. If you haven’t already, please visit your family doctor and discuss what’s been going on with you.

Changing schools would change the environment around you but this would involve a lot of transitioning which would add stress to your situation. In most cases, I’d recommend students try to make it work where they are. Where they are comfortable, have some supports, know their way around, etc. The experience of depression and anxiety is an internal process that is not going to magically change by changing your outside surroundings. A person experiencing depression that gets put in Disneyland, still is a person experiencing depression.

I would encourage you to seek out support for your wellness as your first plan of action at your current school. If when you are feeling better and you still want to change schools, then go for it. Remember that facing adversity can be a positive thing that helps you grow stronger. Building resilience is a lifelong process that will help you face bigger challenges in the future. All the best in your journey.

Problematic Smartphone use, Nature Connectedness and Anxiety

Richardson et al dig into how these 3 items relate to one another.  Society’s disconnection from nature has paralleled an increase in smartphone use.  Some findings from their research:

  • Human relationships with nature bring mental well being at a time of huge demand on health services
  • Nature connectedness benefits?  Life satisfaction, Meaningfulness, Vitality, Happiness, Higher self esteem, Mindfulness, Balanced emotional regulation
  • Selfie taking and phone use emerging as predictors of decreased connectedness with nature
  • Nature connectedness is a key part of a healthy life and planet

 

Problematic Smartphone use, Nature Connectedness and Anxiety, 2017, Richardson et al, University of Derby

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Physiological Effects of Nature Therapy

As a result of stressful situations in daily life a, research is pointing us in a direction of getting back to our roots. Nature therapy, a health-promotion method that uses medically proven effects, such as relaxation by exposure to natural stimuli from forests, urban green spaces, plants, and natural wooden materials, is receiving increasing attention.

 

It is empirically known that exposure to stimuli from natural sources induces a state of hyperawareness and hyperactivity of the parasympathetic nervous system that renders a person in a state of relaxation. This state becomes progressively recognized as the normal state that a person should be in and feel comfortable.  Could this immersion in nature be helpful for you?

 

 

3 Ways to Train your Brain to be Happy

Three Blessings

You must teach your brain to seek out the good things in life. Research shows merely listing three things you are thankful for each day can make a big difference. This technique has been proven again and again and again. One of the reasons old people are happier is because they remember the good and forget the bad.  Gratitude is a powerful force for training your brain.

Social Comparison

People probably encourage you to not compare yourself to others. Research shows it’s not necessarily harmful — but only compare yourself to those worse off than you.  When you compare yourself to those that are better off than you, this does not lead to positive feelings and may make us feel worse.  

Tell Yourself The Right Stories

When your vision of your life story is inadequate, depression can result. Psychotherapists actually help “rewrite” that story and this process is as, if not more, effective than medication.“Retrospective judgment” means reevaluating events and putting a positive spin on them. Naturally happy people do it automatically, but it’s something you can teach yourself. And when it comes to the future, be optimistic. Optimism can make you happier.

Eric Barker – Time Magazine

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