Ecotherapy refers to experiential, therapeutic and personal growth activities that take place in relation to nature, most often outdoors, with a focus on fostering individual and relational healing while also nurturing healthy interactions with the earth and other living beings. Many physical and mental health imbalances reflect the largely unnatural lives we live, disconnected from the natural world and its rhythms. And yet, we are part of and inseparable from the natural world, no matter how advanced we become technologically.
If addictions are often evidence of trauma or injury in attachment relationships, and can be considered a “disease of disconnection”, then our addiction to technology and excessive screen time can be considered both a cause and a side effect of our disconnection from nature. This disconnection not only has serious impacts in terms of human health, but also in terms of the exploitation of the environment and animals for our own purposes, reducing them to insensitive, un-sensing commodities with a price tag.
Howard Clinebell (1996) described three foundational dynamics of ecotherapeutic activities:
- Inreach: receiving and being nurtured by the healing presence of nature, place, Earth.
- Upreach: the actual experience of this more-than-human vitality as we relocate our place within the natural world.
- Outreach: activities with other people that care for the planet.
Inspired by the practices developed by Jon Young (Wilderness Awareness School) and Dr. Michael Cohen (Project NatureConnect), ecotherapy activities at The Refuge focus on sensory awareness, orienting to one’s surroundings as a form of mindfulness practice, grounding, connecting with indigenous wisdom, building a consensual relationship with the external world and all living things, settling the nervous system, and honouring our natural instincts by listening to procedural memory impulses of attraction and avoidance.