What is Outdoor Therapy?
Outdoor Therapy, sometimes called Wilderness Therapy, is a psychotherapeutic and behavioral health methodology that is gaining in popularity throughout the United States and elsewhere in the West, wherever contemporary life has led us indoors and in front of screens.
As our many health epidemics imply, the last century’s cultural shift towards spending our days sedentary and divorced from nature has been devastating to the quality and dignity of human life. The way we are trained from birth to relate to the natural world leads to many avoidable yet heartbreakingly widespread mental and physical health disturbances, ranging from anxiety and depression to obesity to loneliness and social alienation.
Outdoor Therapy, as the name implies, relies on the ordinary healing mechanisms of being exposed to nature. It is led by facilitators who are trained to guide us in engaging with our natural environment in a variety of activities, with a specific healing intention.
Outdoor Therapy may include organized therapeutic experiences centered on camping, rock climbing, hiking, and wilderness expeditions. It can also take place on farms, where gardening, farming, and animal-assisted therapies can take place.
Individual and group therapy conducted out of doors in nature, gardens, parks, and green spaces also fall under the umbrella of Outdoor Therapy.
Villa Kali Ma embraces the healing power of the great outdoors in our programs for women in a variety of ways. The role of sunshine, fresh air, our beautiful home garden of flowers and organic vegetables, and last but not least, the gorgeous warm beaches of the Southern California coast, are an important aspects of our offering for women recovering from trauma, mental health problems, and/or addiction.
How Outdoor Therapy helps during recovery
Outdoor Therapy has many advantages during recovery from any form of psychological illness, be it an addiction, mental health, or trauma.
One clear benefit is that when we are out of doors, and especially when doing outdoor activities, we integrate movement and the experience of the physical body into therapeutic work.
You may have noticed we are often better able to mull over a personal problem while engaged in a manual task such as cooking dinner or weeding a vegetable patch. This is because psychological processing is supported by non-mental activity taking place in the body. Ruminating, on the other hand, (going in circles in our mind without making progress) is supported by staying in our seats and especially by looking at screens and devices, which tends to lead to the mind getting stuck in analysis paralysis rather than assisting us to work through an issue to completion in an effective way.
Trauma research supports this insight, as evidence shows regular, bilateral movement (such as that which happens when we go for a walk), stimulates the portion of our brain that is responsible for sorting through, digesting, absorbing, processing, and releasing our experiences. In other words, we can’t do our psychological healing work without the body! And where the body most likes to be is in nature, interacting with real objects in the physical world. As your own experience after jogging in a forest or going on a hike tells you, your body is happiest when expending its physical energies through exertion and using its muscles in nature.
Being immersed in nature, furthermore, has been shown in general to regulate the nervous system, restoring feelings of peace, coherence, and safety. Even if you’re not able to engage in motion, sitting outside in nature brings balance and wellness to your physiology through many gentle mechanisms in which the ions, molecules, substances and qualities of the natural environment interchange with those same things inside our own bodies. The nature inside of our physical bodies and the nature out there like to be in communication.
Even though we are far from it now, we are part of nature at our core, and when we place ourselves back in contact with nature, we receive its many benefits, through microcosmic chemical exchanges at the atomic and molecular level, through seeing beauty, through gaining perspective (literally), and more.
The Benefits of Outdoor Therapy
The benefits of Outdoor Therapy are many. The use of Outdoor Therapy (best used in tandem with a comprehensive mental health, trauma, and/or addiction treatment program) has been linked to positive outcomes in a range of problems affecting the women we serve at Villa Kali Ma.
Outdoor Therapy is associated with improved physical fitness, healthy sleep, increased energy, greater immunity, reduction in symptoms of depression, as well as decreased risk of relapse.
Outdoor Therapy is a preventative measure that can work against several dangers that threaten the recovery efforts of women seeking to restore themselves to help and happiness.
Specifically, Outdoor Therapy counteracts several trouble zones which are known to be tricky spots when we’re trying to make a positive life change.
For example, depression, anxiety, isolation, obsession, and many other mental health pains are connected to spending too much time inside and in front of screens. Outdoor Therapy reduces sedentary and screen time, which has an enormous impact on overall well-being.
Getting a change of scenery and going outdoors, especially going for a walk or combining the outside time with physical activity, is known to clear and refresh the mind, which is key part of learning to get ahold of one’s negative thoughts to stop them from starting a negative cycle.
Outdoor Therapy is also considered a behavioral health therapy specifically because it teaches the embodied practice of changing behaviors in the moment of temptation to return to a previous, no-longer wanted pattern. We learn through repetition to shift focus, make different choices, and integrate practical understanding about how to be, and behave, positively in our lives (which in turn creates more positive results and circumstances for us).
Overall Outdoor Therapy provides opportunities to connect with other people, as well as chances to release pent-up emotions through free movement, taking space, improving oxygenation through breathing fresh air, and regulating our nervous systems through attuning and synching our brainwaves to the peaceful rhythms that nature emanates.
Outdoor Therapy options
Outdoor Therapy is offered in our inpatient as well as our outpatient programs for women at Villa Kali Ma. We support women who are healing from trauma, mental health struggles, addiction, and any combination of these three.
We integrate exposure to sunlight, gardens, beaches, and nature wherever we can into our psychotherapies, addiction education, and holistic supports for recovery. We do this in recognition of Outdoor Therapy’s remarkable benefits for enhancing intentions to heal. Nature provides a positive backdrop for some of our treatment groups, and many of our activities, and is in general honored as an important part of returning to health in body mind, and soul.
If you would like to experience the ways that Outdoor Therapy can support you to recover from trauma, mental health problems, and/or addiction, you may be interested in our holistic treatment programs for women.
Our outpatient services are available for any women who are looking for help with mental health problems, trauma, and/or addiction. Often these three things go together, but it isn’t necessary to struggle in all three areas to receive our help, so you may experience Outdoor Therapy with us if you like.
You may also be able to find other ways to receive Outdoor Therapy in your community, by searching for a therapist, group, or provider of outdoor therapeutic activities in your local area. Follow your own judgment, but it is good to look for someone who feels like a credible, safe person, and who has some experience and/or accreditation in providing Outdoor Therapy for women.
Regardless of your treatment options, it is recommended to experiment with spending more time out of doors and taking note of the effects that this has on you, basically getting extra minutes of green time in your day whenever and wherever you can.
While we do recommend that you receive a full, comprehensive program of treatment if you are facing trauma, mental health problems, or addiction, you can always supplement your healing work, whatever that looks like, by increasing your exposure to nature however you can.
One suggestion for improving your nature exposure is to make it a habit and to put it on your schedule, perhaps through making a commitment to joining a group activity that takes place outside or in nature. Look for hobbies and activities that take place in natural settings, such as joining a community garden, hiking club, walking group, or volunteering with animals or learning about healthy agricultural practices on an organic farm.
Another way to add more nature experiences to your life is to find a place where you can exercise out of doors, for example by jogging in a park, in a neighborhood with many gardens, or if possible, in a forest or other kind of uncultivated green space. This way you get the significant mental health benefits that come from exercise, combined with the healing lent by nature itself.