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What is Ecotherapy?

For most of its existence homo sapiens has lived in harmony with nature as hunter/gatherers. Such a lifestyle requires a vast knowledge of the seasons, and of the patterns and habits of wildlife, and of plants and herbs and their healing powers. Industrialization and urbanization are fairly recent phenomena on an evolutionary scale. We still carry the genetic memory of our ancestors who lived in untamed nature. Our brains are wired for the outdoors and nature. A growing body of research demonstrates that not only do we feel better when we make time for nature, it is actually a requirement for good physical and mental health!

The field of ecopsychology studies how humans interact with nature. Ecopsychology is a philosophy combining elements of psychology and ecology. It is the philosophy that mental health is contingent upon the health of the environment. Humankind and the environment are part of an interrelated system. We are not separate from nature. We are a part of nature.

At its core, ecopsychology suggests that there is a synergistic relation between planetary and personal well-being; that the needs of the one are relevant to the needs of the other. In short, what we do to the environment, we do to ourselves. Ecotherapy is the practical application of this knowledge. In ecotherapy nature is the “therapist.” In practicing the techniques of ecotherapy, we allow the healing power of nature to work its magic on us. Hölzel et al (2011) demonstrated that meditative states of mindfulness stimulate neural growth in the cerebral cortex in the areas of the brain responsible for emotional regulation, good judgment, insight, and impulse control. Nature experiences have been demonstrated in several studies to produce meditative states (fascination, relaxation, and mindfulness).

Experiences in and with nature, or natural experiences, are ways in which we consciously choose to allow nature to work its healing magic on us. Some types of natural experiences include:

Facilitated Wilderness Experiences

In these types of experiences, a trained facilitator takes you into the woods for an adventure. These events can be anything from a wilderness experience in ecotherapy led by a therapist or counselor, to a hunting trip led by a wilderness guide. Kuo & Taylor (2004) demonstrated that therapy and other activities conducted in outdoor settings reduced symptoms of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Whittington (2006) found that wilderness skills training gave adolescent girls increased self-esteem and self-confidence and helped to shatter gender stereotypes.

Animal Assisted Therapy

Animal therapy in the form of contact with pets and/or wild or domesticated animals enhances self-actualization and can lessen symptoms of depression. Antonioli & Reveley (2005) found that simply swimming with dolphins can greatly reduce symptoms of depression. Other studies have shown that owning pets, or even just watching fish in an aquarium, can greatly reduce stress. Equine Therapy uses horses to facilitate mental and physical wellbeing. There are many other ways that animals can help us lead happier lives, as any pet owner can tell you!

Therapeutic Gardens

Sempik & Spurgeon (2006) demonstrated that therapeutic gardening reduces stress and lessens symptoms of depression. Blair (2009) discovered that gardening can be used as a means of helping school children to enhance self-sufficiency, social identity, meaning, and self-integration. There’s just something very healing about planting something and nurturing it as you watch it grow.

Vacations

Sponselee, et al (2004) discovered that outdoor activities reduce stress and restore energy. If you’ve ever had to miss a vacation, you’re probably painfully aware of the regenerative power of taking a week or so off to spend time in nature. Roggenbuck & Driver (2000) found that you don’t need a facilitator or guide to enjoy health and well-being benefits from the use of wilderness areas. There’s a reason we’re attracted to beaches and national parks!

Architecture Incorporating Natural Spaces

Nature can be incorporated into the home environment through the use of plants, an aquarium, or even recorded nature sounds. Alvarsson et al (2010) studied the positive mental health effects of listening to nature sounds.

Outdoor Classrooms

Purcell, et all in 2007 revealed that outdoor classrooms enhanced many critical factors of the educational experience, including: Enhanced retention, better focus, more attention to detail, less hyperactivity, more relaxation, increased confidence and self-esteem, and better cognitive functioning

A Tale of Two Wolves

An old Grandfather said to his grandson, who came to him with anger at a friend who had done him an injustice, “Let me tell you a story. I too, at times, have felt a great hate for those who have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do. But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It is like drinking poison and wishing your enemy would die. I have struggled with these feelings myself many times.” He continued, “It is as if there are two wolves inside me. One is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him, and does not take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way. But the other wolf is full of anger. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. It is helpless anger, for his anger will change nothing.”

“Sometimes, it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit.”

The boy looked intently into his Grandfather’s eyes and asked, “Which one wins, Grandfather?”

The Grandfather smiled and quietly said, “The one I feed.”

A Tale of Two Wolves, from a Cherokee legend as re-told in

The Mindful Mood Management Workbook by Charlton Hall

The more energy we spend on sensing, the less energy we have to spend on thinking. Based on the tale of two wolves above, we could see the two wolves as “thinking wolf” and “sensing wolf.” The more energy you give to sensing wolf, the less energy you give to thinking wolf. The less energy thinking wolf receives, the weaker thinking wolf becomes. Conversely, the more energy sensing wolf receives, the stronger sensing wolf becomes. By shifting from thinking to sensing, you’re not trying to ‘kill’ the thinking wolf. You’re not engaging in doing by trying to make the thinking wolf go away. You’re simply depriving it of energy so that it may eventually go away on its own. Even if it doesn’t go away on its own, you’re not focusing your attention on it. Since your attention isn’t on it, thinking wolf can’t grab you by the throat, refusing to let go.

It could be said that focusing on what your senses are telling you is a type of thinking as well, and that is partially true; however, the difference is that focusing on what your senses are telling you is a type of thinking devoid of emotional content. If you’re in a thinking cycle that is causing you anxiety or depression, then anxiety and depression are emotions. But unless you hate trees for some reason, simply sitting quietly in a forest and observing a tree as if you are an artist about to draw that tree, is an exercise devoid of emotional content. By focusing on the emotionally neutral stimuli found in nature, we give ourselves the opportunity to feed the sensing wolf.

 

School Shootings – Charlton Hall on WSPA Channel 7

Expert advises parents on talking to kids about school shootings

Charlton Hall chairs the behavioral health department at ReGenesis Health Care, and said the school shooting in Parkland, Florida made it to the minds of his patients who’ve dealt with trauma.

“Because it’s just another reminder that the world isn’t always a safe place,” said Hall.

It’s a conversation he said parents need to have in their homes too.

“[Help children] understand that unfortunately, this is the world we live in now and these things do happen,” he said. “The longer you [parents] sweep it under the rug, the more you’re going to have to deal with it at some point in the future.”

Hall advised limiting how much children are exposed to news of these shootings and leave out the graphic details for younger children, while avoiding information they don’t ask for.

“Too much information for a small child would be something like going into graphic detail about what happened, about how many people were killed.Just let them know that something bad happened, and let the child be your guide,” he said. “But, in the same way be realistic. Don’t try to minimize the danger, either.”

He says to remind children school shootings are possible, but not always probable.

“Assure them that they’re safe. Review the procedures with the school,” said Hall “And it’s important that they are looking to you as a role model as well so if they feel stressed out, they’re looking to you as to how to respond to that.”

And, while at their own schools he says kids need to know making threats are never funny.

“If I hear a child making what they think is a joke saying that they’re going to shoot up a school or if a teacher hears that, or any kind of professional who’s a mandated reporter hears that, they’re required by law to report that,” said Hall. “It’s a very serious thing and can impact the rest of your life – it can keep you from getting into college, getting a job.”

New Online Continuing Education Courses

The courses below are currently being developed. Have a course you’d like to see added? Use the contact form below to make a course suggestion! Register to receive this blog if you’d like to be informed of courses as they’re added!

7Cs of Mindful Parenting
ACT: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
ADHD: Non-Medical Approaches to Treatment
ADHD vs. PTSD: Differential Diagnosis and Trauma
DBT-Informed Therapy
Ecoplay
Ecotherapy for Anxiety
Ecotherapy for Depression
Evaluating Research: A Scientific Approach
Gender Identity Disorder and Transgender Issues
Genograms: How to Create and Use Them
Hypnosis: An Introduction
LGBT-Q Clinical Issues
Marriage & Family Therapy: An Introduction
MBFT and Couples Therapy
MBFT in Clinical Practice
Mindful Mood Management (Part A)
Mindful Mood Management (Part B)
Mindful Self-Care for Therapists
Mindful Suicide Prevention
Mindfulness & Addiction
Mindfulness & Depression
Mindfulness & LGBT-Q Issues
Mindfulness & Spanking
Mindfulness-Based Ecotherapy
Mindfulness-Based Family Therapy (MBFT)
Mindfulness-Based Family Therapy (MBFT) and Couples Therapy
Narrative Therapy
Neurobiology of Play
Neurobiology of Spanking
Neurobiology of Trauma
Person-Centered Therapy
Play Therapy: A Filial Approach
Play Therapy Supervision: A Mindful Approach
Sand Tray Therapy: An Introduction
Solution-Focused Treatment
Supervision of Counselors and Therapists: A Mindful Approach
Teletherapy: An Introduction
Transgender Therapy: An Introduction
Trauma in Children
Trauma-Informed Treatment
Treatment Plans: How to Create and Use Them

CERTIFICATION IN MINDFULNESS-BASED ECOTHERAPY – COMPLETE PACKAGE $199.95

The long-awaited online version of the Mindfulness-Based Ecotherapy Facilitator Training Program is now available!

This popular series certifies you to be a facilitator of the 12-week Midnfulness-Based Ecotherapy program. This program, based on the Mindfulness-Based Ecotherapy Workbook, is now taught worldwide.  Becoming a certified facilitator of this program allows you to run your own groups, wherever you are. It also affords you access to free online support for the program, plus a free listing on our directory of certified facilitators.

The coursework for the program is listed below:

The MBE Facilitator Training Program is a 60-hour program that includes the following courses:
Mindfulness-Based Ecotherapy in Clinical Practice – 25 hours $149.95
Mindfulness: An Introduction – 15 hours – $49.95
Ecotherapy: An Introduction – 10 hours – $29.95
Running a Successful Group – 10 hours $29.95

If you purchased all of these courses separately, your cost would be $259.80, but during this special offer you may purchase the entire certification package of 60 hours of continuing education materials for only $199.95!

 

What is Ecotherapy?

For most of its existence homo sapiens has lived in harmony with nature as hunter/gatherers. Such a lifestyle requires a vast knowledge of the seasons, and of the patterns and habits of wildlife, and of plants and herbs and their healing powers. Industrialization and urbanization are fairly recent phenomena on an evolutionary scale. We still carry the genetic memory of our ancestors who lived in untamed nature. Our brains are wired for the outdoors and nature. A growing body of research demonstrates that not only do we feel better when we make time for nature, it is actually a requirement for good physical and mental health!

The field of ecopsychology studies how humans interact with nature. Ecopsychology is a philosophy combining elements of psychology and ecology. It is the philosophy that mental health is contingent upon the health of the environment. Humankind and the environment are part of an interrelated system. We are not separate from nature. We are a part of nature.

At its core, ecopsychology suggests that there is a synergistic relation between planetary and personal well-being; that the needs of the one are relevant to the needs of the other. In short, what we do to the environment, we do to ourselves. Ecotherapy is the practical application of this knowledge. In ecotherapy nature is the “therapist.” In practicing the techniques of ecotherapy, we allow the healing power of nature to work its magic on us. Hölzel et al (2011) demonstrated that meditative states of mindfulness stimulate neural growth in the cerebral cortex in the areas of the brain responsible for emotional regulation, good judgment, insight, and impulse control. Nature experiences have been demonstrated in several studies to produce meditative states (fascination, relaxation, and mindfulness).

Experiences in and with nature, or natural experiences, are ways in which we consciously choose to allow nature to work its healing magic on us. Some types of natural experiences include:

Facilitated Wilderness Experiences

In these types of experiences, a trained facilitator takes you into the woods for an adventure. These events can be anything from a wilderness experience in ecotherapy led by a therapist or counselor, to a hunting trip led by a wilderness guide. Kuo & Taylor (2004) demonstrated that therapy and other activities conducted in outdoor settings reduced symptoms of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Whittington (2006) found that wilderness skills training gave adolescent girls increased self-esteem and self-confidence and helped to shatter gender stereotypes.

Animal Assisted Therapy

Animal therapy in the form of contact with pets and/or wild or domesticated animals enhances self-actualization and can lessen symptoms of depression. Antonioli & Reveley (2005) found that simply swimming with dolphins can greatly reduce symptoms of depression. Other studies have shown that owning pets, or even just watching fish in an aquarium, can greatly reduce stress. Equine Therapy uses horses to facilitate mental and physical wellbeing. There are many other ways that animals can help us lead happier lives, as any pet owner can tell you!

Therapeutic Gardens

Sempik & Spurgeon (2006) demonstrated that therapeutic gardening reduces stress and lessens symptoms of depression. Blair (2009) discovered that gardening can be used as a means of helping school children to enhance self-sufficiency, social identity, meaning, and self-integration. There’s just something very healing about planting something and nurturing it as you watch it grow.

Vacations

Sponselee, et al (2004) discovered that outdoor activities reduce stress and restore energy. If you’ve ever had to miss a vacation, you’re probably painfully aware of the regenerative power of taking a week or so off to spend time in nature. Roggenbuck & Driver (2000) found that you don’t need a facilitator or guide to enjoy health and well-being benefits from the use of wilderness areas. There’s a reason we’re attracted to beaches and national parks!

Architecture Incorporating Natural Spaces

Nature can be incorporated into the home environment through the use of plants, an aquarium, or even recorded nature sounds. Alvarsson et al (2010) studied the positive mental health effects of listening to nature sounds.

Outdoor Classrooms

Purcell, et all in 2007 revealed that outdoor classrooms enhanced many critical factors of the educational experience, including: Enhanced retention, better focus, more attention to detail, less hyperactivity, more relaxation, increased confidence and self-esteem, and better cognitive functioning

Doing, Being, Thinking and Sensing

A key aspect of mindfulness is stepping outside of doing mode and entering into being mode.

When we’re caught up in thought and feeling cycles that lead to depression and anxiety, we usually feel that we should be doing something to fix it. The problem with this is that sometimes there is nothing you can do to fix a problem. Mindfulness is a way to escape this cycle of trying to fix things by simply focusing on our moment-to-moment experience. When we are doing this, we are in being mode. In being mode, we are not trying to fix anything. We are not trying to go anywhere. We are not trying to do anything. We are not trying, period. Trying is doing, and being mode isn’t about doing.

In being mode we are free to enjoy our experiences from moment to moment by focusing on what our senses are telling us rather than focusing on trying to find a way out of a problem. When downstairs brain is engaged, and upstairs brain is temporarily disconnected, moving into being mode allows us a little breathing room.

The way to move from doing mode to being mode is to shift our mental energy from thinking mode to sensing mode. Our brains only have a finite of energy to spend on any given task at any given time. If we have a stressful or depressing thought cycle going on, we can shift energy from what our thoughts are telling us by engaging our internal observer to start focusing on what our senses are telling us. As you read this paragraph, can you feel your breath going in and out of your lungs? Were you even aware you were breathing before you read the previous sentence? When caught up in thinking cycles, we’re focusing on the boomerang. But by shifting our attention to our direct experiences and focusing on what our senses are telling us, we’re able to move into sensing mode.

When in sensing mode we are no longer giving energy to ruminating cycles that are leading us to states that we do not want to experience. We are able to move to sensing mode by focusing first on our breathing, then on our direct experiences of the current situation. We do this by using all of our senses, in the moment, to explore the environment around us. What do we hear? What do we see? What do we smell? What do we taste? What do we feel? By asking ourselves these questions, we are able to move into sensing mode.

The more energy we spend on sensing, the less energy we have to spend on thinking. Based on the tale of two wolves, we could see the two wolves as “thinking wolf” and “sensing wolf.” The more energy you give to sensing wolf, the less energy you give to thinking wolf. The less energy thinking wolf receives, the weaker thinking wolf becomes. Conversely, the more energy sensing wolf receives, the stronger sensing wolf becomes. By shifting from thinking to sensing, you’re not trying to ‘kill’ the thinking wolf. You’re not engaging in doing by trying to make the thinking wolf go away. You’re simply depriving it of energy so that it may eventually go away on its own. Even if it doesn’t go away on its own, you’re not focusing your attention on it. Since your attention isn’t on it, thinking wolf can’t grab you by the throat, refusing to let go.

It could be said that focusing on what your senses are telling you is a type of thinking as well, and that is partially true; however, the difference is that focusing on what your senses are telling you is a type of thinking devoid of emotional content. If you’re in a thinking cycle that is causing you anxiety or depression, then anxiety and depression are emotions. But unless you hate trees for some reason, simply sitting quietly in a forest and observing a tree as if you are an artist about to draw that tree, is an exercise devoid of emotional content. By focusing on the emotionally neutral stimuli found in nature, we give ourselves the opportunity to feed the sensing wolf.

Upstairs Brain vs. Downstairs Brain

Feelings of depression, anxiety, sadness, and other emotions are generated in a part of the brain called the limbic system. This ‘downstairs’ portion of the brain is only interested in three things: Fighting, fleeing, or freezing. In ‘fight’ mode, the downstairs brain wants to protect you from harm by fighting against the threat. When it is triggered, your heart may race, your palms may get sweaty, and you may have a sharp increase in irritability and anger. In ‘flee’ mode, you may experience a similar adrenaline rush, but in this instance your brain is preparing your body to run away from the danger. In ‘freeze’ mode, we tend to retreat inside ourselves. This is the deer-in-the-headlights feeling of “If I’m very quiet and still, the bad thing won’t see me.”

Whether you’re in fight, flee, or freeze mode, your downstairs brain is preparing you to deal with a real or perceived threat in the only way it knows how. When your downstairs brain is engaged, the upstairs part of your brain tends to get overwhelmed. The upstairs brain, which consists of the neocortex of the brain, is the part responsible for thinking things through, figuring things out, and solving problems. When the downstairs brain takes over, the upstairs brain is out to lunch. That’s why when you’re emotionally overwhelmed it is nearly impossible to figure out a way to deal with it. Upstairs brain is all about finding solutions to problems, but downstairs brain is all about fighting, fleeing, or freezing. When your upstairs brain is overwhelmed, thinking things over isn’t going to work. That’s because at that point your downstairs brain is in charge. For those times when your downstairs brain is running the show, mindfulness is a way of disengaging from the thinking cycle for a while so that you can re-center yourself and reconnect with yourself and the world around you.

What is Mindfulness-Based Ecotherapy (MBE)?

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

– Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Do you enjoy nature? Have you ever been camping, hiking or canoeing? Do you enjoy hunting and fishing? If so, you are probably already aware of nature’s power to relax and heal. A large and growing body of research demonstrates that nature is good for the mind as well as the body.

Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to the moment in which you find yourself by focusing on your immediate experience rather than on ruminations that may be producing stress depression, or anxiety. The benefits of mindfulness as a tool for stress reduction and self-improvement have been thoroughly researched. Mindfulness works so well in this capacity that it has been referred to as the “penicillin of mental health.”

Mindfulness-Based Ecotherapy (MBE) is a blending of Mindfulness and Ecopsychology. MBE uses nature to facilitate mindful awareness, the first skill of MBE.

MBE is used as a framework for helping individuals and families to find deeper connections in their own lives, and to give more meaning and enjoyment to the activities of daily living. By re-integrating ourselves with nature, we are able to tap into nature’s healing power and to heal the earth as we heal ourselves.

Think about the last time you were stressed out or depressed about something. Hold that thought in your mind and ask yourself, “Was the stress due to something that happened in the past? Was it about something that may or may not happen in the future? How much of what I was anxious about has to do with right now, at this very moment, as I read this sentence?”

Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to what is happening right now, in this moment.

By focusing on our experiences in the now, from moment to moment, we come to realize that we are free to choose which thoughts and feelings to pay attention to, and which thoughts and feelings not to focus on. This doesn’t mean that we’re trying to stop thinking or feeling. It means that we’re just making a conscious choice on how much attention to focus on those thoughts or feelings.

The past only exists in our memories. The future is only a projection of the past. Anxiety about future events is the result of playing the odds based on past experiences and expecting similar occurrences to happen in the future. Mindfulness is a way of using the present moment to choose what to believe about the past and the future. We can choose which memories to pay attention to, and which projections about the future to focus our attention on. Mindfulness isn’t about trying to make anxious or depressing thoughts and feelings go away. It is about choosing whether or not to dwell on such thoughts and feelings.

Try this: Imagine that everything that has ever stressed you out or depressed you is written on a sheet of paper. Now imagine holding this sheet of paper about six inches from your nose, or as close to your face as you can while still being able to read the words on this page.

With the page this close to your face, how much of your surroundings can you see? If you’re like most people, you probably can’t see much of anything in the immediate environment. If your stressful thoughts and feelings were written on this page, they’d be in the way. They’d be blocking your view. When we let our stressful thoughts and feelings occupy all of our attention, then like this page, they tend to block our view of anything else that might be going on in our lives.

Now instead of having all your stressful and depressing thoughts written on this page, imagine that they’re written on a boomerang. If you tried to throw that boomerang away, it would eventually come back to you. If you weren’t careful, it might actually smack you in the head on its return trip!  The harder you try to throw this boomerang away, the faster it comes back to you. When we try to “throw away” stressful and depressing thoughts and feelings, they tend to come right back at us as well. That’s because, like it or not, stressful and depressing thoughts and feelings are just as much a part of us as happy thoughts and feelings. Trying to throw them away is trying to throw away a part of ourselves.

What if, instead of trying to throw that boomerang away, you simply set it in your lap? If you did this, those negative thoughts and feelings written on the boomerang would still be with you, but they wouldn’t be blocking your view. You could still see and interact with the world, but you also wouldn’t be trying to throw away a part of yourself.

Mindfulness is a way of setting that boomerang of stressful and depressing thoughts in your lap so you can see the world around you. It’s not a way of trying to throw those thoughts and feelings away. Remember, if you try to do that, the boomerang may come back with a vengeance! Instead, mindfulness is about learning to accept that such thoughts and feelings are a natural part of existence, and accepting that we don’t have to let them keep us from interacting with the world unless we consciously choose to do so.