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Int J Adv Counselling (2014) 36:162174

DOI 10.1007/s10447-013-9198-4

ORIGINAL ARTICLE

Nature-Based Counseling: Integrating the Healing


Benefits of Nature Into Practice

Arie T. Greenleaf & Rhonda M. Bryant &


Joanna B. Pollock

Published online: 13 September 2013


# Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Abstract Research establishes a strong link between contact with nature and enhanced
human wellness. Given the potential benefits of nature experiences on enhancing mental
health, the authors advocate for a greater inclusion of nature-based approaches into profes-
sional practice. A case example and implications for practice are presented.

Keywords Ecotherapy . Green exercise . Biophilia . Ecological anxiety

Introduction

The Wilderness holds answers to more questions than we have yet learned to ask.
Nancy Wynne Newhall
Exposure to the natural environment profoundly influences humans in ways that are both
positive and restorative (e.g., Barton and Pretty 2010; Maas et al. 2006; Townsend and
Moore 2005). Intimate and sustained contact with nature over a span of approximately
350,000 generations has fashioned within our DNA an instinctive need to connect with all
that is alive and vital (Depledge et al. 2011, p. 4660; Pretty 2002). Wilson (1984) referred to
this biological-based yearning as the biophilia hypothesis. Biophilia, which literally means
love of life or living systems, is described by Wilson (1984) as a subconscious urge to
affiliate with the rest of life and the environment, including plants, animals and the weather.
Evidence of biophilia shows up everywhere in our daily lives, with computer screen
savers a prime example. The popularity of sunset beaches, snowy mountains, and cascading
waterfalls as our chosen screen photos indicate how intensely we seek the beauty of the

A. T. Greenleaf (*)
School of Counseling, College of Education, Seattle University, Seattle, WA, USA
e-mail: arie.greenleaf@gmail.com

R. M. Bryant
Department of Counseling and Educational Leadership, Albany State University, Albany, Georgia

J. B. Pollock
Applied Sustainability Center, The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, USA
Int J Adv Counselling (2014) 36:162174 163

natural environment, even when we cannot physically always be in its presence. Further,
who has not dreamt of a vacation to the beach or mountains as an escape from our
mechanistic, urban settings? Who as well, when feeling stress, has not sought restoration
in the form of a leisurely stroll through a park, a vigorous hike in the hills, or a relaxing nap
under the shade of a tree? Typically, people covet offices with the best view, and homes with
scenery of nature routinely sell between 6 % and 12 % above the average market price (Des
Rosiers et al. 2002; Luttik 2000).
In addition to these common anecdotal experiences, research exploring the relationship
between nature and mental health suggests that exposure to nature reduces stress (Kaplan
1995; Hull and Michael 1994), improves attentional capacity and cognitive functioning
(Kaplan 1995; Berto 2005; Berman et al. 2008), increases concentration and impulse control
in children and adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (Kuo and Taylor
2004), reduces physical pain and speeds up healing (Lechtzin et al. 2010; Ulrich 1984),
improves job satisfaction and productivity (Dravigne et al. 2008; Taylor et al. 2001), lifts
mood (Hull and Michael 1994), and reduces risk of morbidity (Maas et al. 2009b). Growing
research in this area supports a significant link between spending time in a natural environ-
ment and high levels of psychological, emotional, physical and spiritual well-being (Burls
2007; Louv 2008; Pryor et al. 2006; Wilson 1984).

Our Divorce from Nature

Despite our need to connect with nature, our increasingly urban lifestyle over the last
100 years (e.g., 82 % of the American population live in cities and suburbs) has dramatically
reduced opportunities for contact with the natural world (Maller et al. 2006; Townsend and
Moore 2005). Modern living, by way of rural flight and suburbanized infrastructures, has
insulated people from the natural environment, from the plants and animals inherent in a
natural setting (Stilgoe 2001). For example, Americans on average spend 90 % of their lives
within buildings (Evans and McCoy 1998), and American children average just 30 min a
week of unstructured time outdoors, compared to 52 h a week of electronic media exposure
(U.S. Department of Interior 2012). This reduction of time spent outdoors is not only
occurring in the U.S.; children in other developed countries are spending more of their lives
indoors. For example, children in the United Kingdom spend more time in front of a screen
in one day (i.e., 4.5 h) than they spend exercising outdoors in the entire week (ChildWise
2013). An Australian study (Planet Ark 2011) examining childhood interaction with nature
today as compared to a generation ago found that 73 % of respondents reported playing
outdoors more often than indoors when they were young as compared to only 13 % of their
children. A study of Norwegian childrens outdoor play and use of natural areas highlighted
the changing social dimension of childrens play, from large groups of children that played
outdoors in the past to small groups that play mostly indoors today (Skr and Krogh 2009).
Research on the health risks of indoor lifestyles has revealed disturbing consequences.
Spending a preponderance of time indoors is linked with reduced exercise, higher rates of
obesity and obesity-related diseases, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer (Carrera-Bastos et al.
2011), as well as mental depletion and fatigue, increased aggression and violence, a loss of
emotional control, attention deficit disorder, and increased incidences of depression and
other psychological disorders (Kuo and Sullivan 2001; Leather et al. 1998; Lee and
Maheswaran 2010; U.S. Department of Interior 2012; Weinstein et al. 2009). Miller
(2012) referred to these maladies as diseases of indoor living. A disconnect with nature
and the emotional, psychological, and physical consequences it produces, prompted Louv
164 Int J Adv Counselling (2014) 36:162174

(2008) to coin the term nature-deficit disorder. The term raises important awareness of the
mental and physical health risks that develop when a person sparingly interacts with nature,
especially when compared to the numerous hours that a person spends living indoors.
Essentially, scholarship across a wide range of academic disciplines is establishing
empirically what perhaps most of us have already known anecdotally: personal well-being
is enhanced via our relationship with nature, and conversely, too much time indoors
negatively impacts well-being. In light of the growing research in this area, the counseling
profession would benefit from embracing a more nature-based counseling approach. Today,
however, many counseling professionals fail to consider nature as an ally in their efforts to
help clients reach their goals. Therefore, the aim of this paper is to raise our professional
awareness of the role nature can play in counseling; its therapeutic power, if you will.
Nature-based approaches will be shown to represent an empirically supported treatment
strategy for enhancing clients psychological, emotional, and social well-being. In the
following sections we first will review a few of the different lines of research that demon-
strate the link between nature and wellness and then present current theoretical perspectives
that explain these findings. We will conclude with a case example and implications for
counseling research and practice.

Nature Experiences Promote Wellness

Benefits of Green Exercise

Activity in the presence of nature, also referred to as green exercise, has been shown to
have significant mental and physical health benefits that go beyond the activity alone
(Barton and Pretty 2010; Brymer 2009; Corkery 2004; de Vries et al. 2001; Giles-Corti
and Donovan 2003; Mitchell and Popham 2007). For example, in a meta-analysis of 10
studies involving 1,252 participants, Barton and Pretty (2010) found that green exercise
improved self-esteem and mood significantly more than non-green exercise. In fact, every
type of green activity analyzed (i.e., walking, gardening, cycling, fishing, boating,
horseback-riding, and farming) improved self-esteem and mood. In another study, Pretty
et al. (2006) found that 90 % of the participants had increased self-esteem after walking in a
natural setting, while 44 % of those who walked inside a shopping center experienced
reduced levels of self-esteem. In a study exploring the influence of nature on depression,
Pretty et al. (2007) observed that 71 % of those who participated in a daily walk around a
public park containing woodlands, grasslands, and lakes experienced significantly less
depression than those who walked inside a shopping center. The same authors suggest that
a daily dose of walking outside could be as effective as taking antidepressant drugs for
treating mild to moderate depression.

Horticultural Therapy

Often referred to as horticultural therapy, mental health professionals have used gardening to
improve client well-being. Research highlights the positive social and psychological out-
comes of people-plant interactions such as increased self-esteem, mental concentration, and
social integration, as well as an improved sense of community, accomplishment and pride
(Lewis 1996; Unruh 2004). A meta-analysis (Soderback et al. 2004) of horticultural therapy
articles found that gardening affects emotional, cognitive and/or sensory motor functioning,
leading to improved healing from brain damage injury and to an increase in social
Int J Adv Counselling (2014) 36:162174 165

participation, health, well-being and life-satisfaction. Gardening has also been shown to
slow down the deterioration of physical and mental capacities in the elderly (Sempik et al.
2003). Research with Alzheimers and dementia patients, for example, has found that
gardening can lead to a reduction of disruptive behaviors and sleep disturbances (e.g.,
Cohen-Mansfield and Werner 1998; Mooney and Nicell 1992). Mooney and Nicell (1992)
found that institutions with gardens, in comparison with institutions without gardens, have
fewer violent incidents and falls for patients with Alzheimers.
Additionally the Eden Alternative, a philosophy started by geriatrician, Dr. William
Thomas in 1991, has since been adopted by long-term care facilities internationally to reduce
feelings of loneliness, helplessness and boredom among residents and foster meaning in the
lives of the elderly (Kruschke 2006). The Eden Alternative has a goal of fostering a culture
that promotes the dignity of elders, encourages them to contribute positively to their
environment and incorporates the use of animals, plants and birds into the long-term care
environment (Bruck 1997).

Nature and Child Development

Researchers have also established strong connections between direct contact with nature and
enhanced well-being in children (Bandoroff and Scherer 1994; Kellert and Derr 1998; Kuo
and Taylor 2004; Louv 2008). Kellerts (2002) meta-analysis on related literature concluded
that direct contact with nature significantly and positively impacts childrens cognitive,
affective, and moral development. Wells and Evans (2003) showed that maternal ratings
of behavioral conduct disorders, anxiety, and depression were lower for rural children living
near nature than for their peers who lived further away from nature. Children living near a
natural environment also rated themselves higher on global measures of self-worth than their
peers living in a less natural setting.
A few studies have explored the impact of nature on childrens ADHD symptoms. In one
study, parents rated the effects of different activities on their childs ADHD behaviors
(Taylor, Kuo and Sullivan 2001). Green settings provided an environment where the
activities were disproportionately likely to help children with ADHD symptoms, while
activities in non-green settings were found to exacerbate symptoms. A similar study of over
450 children diagnosed with ADHD showed a greater reduction in attention deficit symp-
toms after the children engaged in activities in natural green spaces compared to indoor and
constructed outdoor spaces (Kuo and Taylor 2004).
Studies concerning the influence of animals on enhancing pro-social behavior in children
also reveal promising findings. Children with autism were rated as displaying an increase in
pro-social behavior and a decrease in self-absorption when a dog was present in the
counseling sessions (Limond et al. 1997). Guttman (1984) showed that boys who owned a
pet were significantly better at decoding non-verbal information than boys who did not own
a pet. In addition, a study by Vidovic et al. (1999) found that children having a strong pet
attachment scored higher on a measure of empathy than children with either a weak pet
relationship or without a pet altogether.

Living Near Nature

A lack of access to green space has been positively linked with stress, anxiety, and other
DSM-IV-TR disorders, while close access to nature has been coupled with quality of life and
well-being (Maas et al. 2009a). A large epidemiological study in the Netherlands found a
positive correlation between the quantity of urban green space within a 1 km radius and
166 Int J Adv Counselling (2014) 36:162174

citizens overall perception of general health (Maas et al. 2006). Similarly, the annual
prevalence of disease clusters, including anxiety disorders and depression, were found to
be significantly lower for people living near green space (Maas et al. 2009a, b). Additional
studies have found the presence of a park in a neighborhood contributes to a sense of safety
for residents and to an actual reduction in crime (Kuo et al. 1998; Kuo and Sullivan 2001), as
well as to more social integration opportunities for the elderly (Kweon et al. 1998).
Green spaces are found to potentially increase the opportunity for social interaction by
providing meeting places for community members to gather and maintain social ties (Kweon
et al. 1998; Kuo et al. 1998; Maas et al. 2009a, b). Maas and colleagues (2009a, b) reported
that proximity to green space was associated with a lower rate of self-reported ill health;
correspondingly, as the proximity to green spaces declined, rates of loneliness and lack of
social support increased.
Parallel to the benefits of living near nature, simply viewing natural scenes, even in the
form of photographs and video simulations, are being explored for their positive impact in
the stressful confines of hospitals, nursing homes, workplaces, prisons, and remote military
sites (e.g., Moore 1981). Studies show that seeing nature alleviates stress, improves psy-
chological well-being, and increases healing time. For example, a renowned study examin-
ing recovery rates of patients who underwent gall bladder surgery found that those with a
natural view recovered more quickly, spent less time in the hospital, received fewer negative
evaluative comments from nurses, took fewer analgesics, and had less postoperative com-
plications than 23 matched patients in similar rooms with windows facing a brick wall
(Ulrich 1984).

Theoretical Foundations for the Nature-Wellness Link

The biophilia hypothesis (Wilson 1984) is based on the proposition that, as a species, we
have spent millennia living in intimate existence with nature. Wilson argued for an evolved
inclination among humans to affiliate with the non-human world. Plants, animals, land-
scapes, the turning of the seasons, and the climate represent the context and conditions that
directly guided human evolution from deep history to the present day. Thus, we seem to be
biologically programmed to seek kinship and connection with nature. In return, the natural
world seems to influence the development of our emotional, cognitive, social, and even
spiritual well-being.
Kaplan (1995) argued that nature works on human well-being primarily through its
restorative qualities. Specifically, he believed that modern Western living presents us with
events and circumstances that require an immense amount of direct psychological attention.
Inevitably, without the restoring effects of nature, this effortful attention leads to mental
fatigue. According to Kaplans (1995) Attention Restoration Theory (ART), restorative
environments provide a necessary refuge from the need for focused attention, because
nature experiences do not require direct psychological attention. For an environment to be
restorative it must include: fascination (an involuntary form of attention requiring effortless
interest and curiosity); a sense of being away (temporary escape from ones usual setting or
situation); compatibility with an individuals preferences or inclinations (whether the setting
satisfies the individuals purposes); and a sense of extent (a sense of being part of something
much larger than the individual) (Kaplan and Kaplan 1989; Hartig et al. 1991). Combined,
these elements bring about a restorative effect.
Wilsons biophilia hypothesis and Kaplans ART are perhaps the most widely known and
researched theories on the relationship between nature and mental health. Additional,
Int J Adv Counselling (2014) 36:162174 167

theoretical perspectives include Davis (2004) argument that nature promotes closer contact
with Jungian archetypes; Mitchells (1983) sociological-based notion that mountain experi-
ences provide us a sense of belonging to the unified, animated, and spiritually encompassing
world (p. 212); and Segals (1997) belief that natural settings enhance our self-awareness by
acting as a mirror whereby the events of the natural world allow us an opportunity to reflect on
our thoughts and feelings. These theories provide broad explanations of the nature-wellness
link; however, additional research is necessary to examine the veracity of their principal tenets.

Case Example and Application

Existing research presents striking support for the connection between human well-being
and interactions with nature. While the literature and theoretical approaches offer support for
the importance of the nature-human connection, important questions remain. What are
practical ways that counselors can implement these principles in their work? How does a
counselor implement ecotherapeutic techniques with clients in clinical practice? The
authors would like to offer an example of how one of them conducted counseling sessions
with a client while walking in a park; a child who had been sexually abused by a grandfather
and lived with a single father.
The author involved conducted some sessions indoors in an office without windows and
other sessions walking outside in a nearby park that had numerous trees, shrubs, grass, wild
flowers, squirrels and birds. Once the first outdoor session was initiated, the author began
offering the option of conducting the session indoors or outdoors, weather permitting, and it
became apparent that the client preferred going outdoors for the session. The author noted
that the client spoke more freely of her emotions, family dynamics, her concerns and any
post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms she was having while walking outdoors versus
sitting in the counseling office.
Being outdoors also provided the client with more opportunity to interact with her environ-
ment and allowed the author a chance to observe the ways in which the client chose to do so.
Sometimes this allowed the author to understand ways in which the client found enjoyment in
an outdoor setting and at times additional issues to work on in session were revealed, such as the
clients decision to pick flowers that were in a private yard adjacent to the park. The author also
worked with the client and her father outdoors and the outdoor setting allowed for a more in-
depth observation of how the client and her father interacted with one another, such as attempts
to impress her father in physical play behaviors or solicit his assistance with gymnastics
maneuvers that would not have been expressed in an indoor environment.
Conducting sessions outdoors seemed to enhance the clients enjoyment of therapy
sessions, reduce her boredom and mitigate undesirable requests, such as to use the authors
computer or seek ways to be entertained in the counseling office instead of engaging with
the author on matters germane to the therapeutic goals of the clients care plan.
Based on observation and interviews with the client and her father, the author believes
that conducting sessions outdoors improved clinical outcomes for this client. It is difficult to
measure whether or not there was any causal effect from being in a more natural setting or if
the outdoor setting simply provided a more entertaining and constructive setting, but these
case study observations are in keeping with the findings from studies that show significant
positive psycho-social outcomes from natural, outdoor environments (Barton and Pretty
2010; Pretty et al. 2007).
Spending time outdoors and less time in the built environment may be a more natural
setting for human beings and has physical, social and psychological benefits due to our
168 Int J Adv Counselling (2014) 36:162174

evolutionary biological history. Another consideration is that being outdoors enhances


imagination, communication and social engagement; all of which improve mental health.
Despite these benefits, conducting counseling sessions outdoors does require unique
considerations concerning matters of confidentiality. Careful attention to matters of confi-
dentiality must be maintained, including giving the client and their guardian, if the client has
one, informed consent and measures to protect their confidentiality in the outdoor environ-
ment. For instance, if other adults or children in the park approached the client or the author,
the nature of the relationship with the client was never revealed. Therapy was not conducted
within hearing distance of others in the park.

Consequences of Western Culture

Many eco-therapists, eco-philosophers and environmental anthropologists are making the


case that Western culture produces individuals who lack, with any sense of depth, a connection
to the natural world (Robinson 2009). Also postulated is that this lack of connection has real
mental health outcomes, such as feelings of isolation, despair, and a diminished sense of
meaning and purpose. Multiple theoretical frameworks of the counseling profession - from
the classic Individual Psychology of Adler to the more modern feminists, systems theory, and
ecofeminist thoughts - embrace the notion that true understanding of our clients happens with
consideration for their ecological context. The ecological context has traditionally included
social and cultural considerations, expectations and limitations.
Until now, few in the social sciences, including the counseling profession, considered that
ecological context should include the condition of the clients natural environment.
Theorists and researchers in the social sciences are beginning to embrace a broadening of
the ecological framework and the need to recognize how our clients are influenced by and
interact with the natural environment as well (Norton 2012). The field of social work in
particular is beginning to explore the concepts of deep ecology, or the innate need that
human beings have to feel a deep interconnection with the natural world.
There is also recognition that increasing rates of environmental crises invariably impact
client and social welfare and that negative impacts are disproportionate for those with lower
incomes and groups that are already oppressed (Norton 2012). Many social workers are
beginning to acknowledge in the literature that the physical realities of increasing extreme
weather events, environmental justice issues and the disconnection people have from nature
all have mental health and social outcomes with strong implications for their field and have
begun to reference this as the ecosocial perspective (Norton 2012). Certainly these cross-
disciplinary realizations are worthy of deep consideration and have relevant implications for
the counseling field as well.

Ecological Anxiety

As anthropogenic causes challenge the function of ecosystems throughout the globe, many
people are developing a sincere concern about how Western cultural practices, including an
economic model that hinges on unfettered growth, is compromising the quality of life of this
and future generations. This concern, which has also been described to include mourning the
loss of species and green spaces, has been anecdotally termed ecological anxiety (Brymer
et al. 2010a). The authors hypothesize that many individuals experiencing ecological anxiety
may present with a number of symptoms associated with DSM-V disorders, including
anxiety or depression disorders.
Int J Adv Counselling (2014) 36:162174 169

Ecofeminist theory has long postulated that the destruction of the natural world, the oppres-
sion of women, minorities and others and subsequent higher mental health disorders have origins
rooted in cultures that value hierarchy, domination and, in Western culture, the individuated self
(Clinebell 1996). Western society also emphasizes the importance of consumptive behaviors, the
economy and our role as consumers in the media, much more than as engaged community
members. The acquisition of products becomes a means of signaling ones value or worth in the
community, which leads to disparate wealth distribution, oppression, a devaluation of those with
lower incomes, and environmental exploitation. Not only do oppressed groups have a higher
incidence of mental illness, but environmental exploitation and global climate change is leading
to major mental health considerations as well (Doherty and Clayton 2011).
Failing to recognize and view ourselves as part of integrated social and ecological
systems and as fundamentally interconnected with the web of life leads to viewing ourselves
as separate from one another and from the natural world, which may not only have
environmental outcomes, but mental health implications as well. Many counseling theories
maintain that human beings have a psychological need for a sense of belonging and
connectedness, which can shield us from a sense of isolation and despair and provide us
with a sense of purpose or meaning, possibly abating symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Implications for Counseling

Ecotherapy, often referred to as applied ecopsychology, entails practices or techniques that


foster a deeper connection with nature (Burls 2007). The goal of these techniques is for
clients to experience enhanced well-being and have optimal mental health. As previously
stated, fostering a connection to nature has been shown to mitigate symptoms of attention
deficit hyperactivity disorder, improve mood in those with depression, enhance self-esteem,
reduce anxiety and improve interpersonal skills for troubled youth (Pretty et al. 2007; Taylor
et al. 2001; Elings and Hassink 2008). Clearly there is evidence that nature-based ap-
proaches can be efficacious in enhancing well-being across the lifespan, from childhood
development, to adults and the elderly. All of these benefits are evidence that the counseling
profession would do well to continue researching and expanding application of ecotherapy
in a variety of counseling arenas.

Ecotherapeutic Techniques

Questions still remain, however, about how to best utilize ecotherapeutic techniques in clinical
practice. The degree of awareness a client has about the ecological crises of the world today or
the depth of the relationship they currently have with nature may influence the extent of anxiety
they are experiencing and the clients openness to connecting with nature as therapeutic.
Therefore, assessing a clients relationship to the natural world, or lack thereof, is largely
considered part of a comprehensive intake process by counselors who respect the benefits the
natural world can provide in their clients lives. One assessment tool is the Nature Relatedness
Scale (Nisbet et al. 2009), but there are others and their validity and reliability is being
researched (Beery 2013). Individuals who score highly on the nature relatedness scale report
having greater positive affect, autonomy, personal growth, self-acceptance, and a sense of
purpose in life than those scoring lower on the scale (Nisbet et al. 2011).
These nature connectedness tools are valuable instruments for assessing the role of nature
in the lives of clients either in the intake process or later in the therapeutic process.
Counselors may also consider incorporating such questions that explore how much time
170 Int J Adv Counselling (2014) 36:162174

clients spend indoors and outdoors. Open-ended questions such as Please share what role
natural environments play in your life and the life of your family?, can provide counselors
with a baseline understanding of their clients connection to nature and what ecotherapeutic
techniques might best fit the clients interests. Over time, counselors can assess the effects of
individual interventions to determine which strategies are most effective in helping the client
have improved psychosocial outcomes by building a closer relationship with nature.
Ecotherapeutic techniques can occur in the context of the counseling session itself or be
given as homework to clients in the form of measurable recommendations. A technique used
during a session could be conducting the therapy session in a private, outdoor setting and
beginning the session by allowing the client to choose the location outdoors in which to have
the session. The choice the client makes could reveal something about what types of
environments the client finds soothing or enjoyable.
Recommendations for clients outside the session may include, and are certainly not limited
to, walks in a park or other green spaces, time spent gardening with others, time with animals,
such as horseback riding, or time spent with others in an effort to preserve ecosystems.

Need for Counseling Due to Ecological Disasters

Scholars are beginning to acknowledge in the literature that the escalating intensity and
frequency of extreme weather events from global climate change is increasing the need for
more mental health services globally and that currently those most impacted are the earths
most vulnerable individuals and communities (Doherty and Clayton 2011). Doherty and
Clayton (2011) point out that concern over environmental health threats can have a negative
impact on subjective well-being. Maiteny (2002) identified that people tend to have varying
responses to chronic anxiety about ecological and social problems, including denial that
takes the form of maintained or increased material consumption or increased consumption of
green products. An alternate response identified by Maiteny (2002), though, is a sense of
empowerment accompanied by a deeper sense of connectedness to ecology, which often
leads to changes in lifestyle and the actions to raise awareness socially.
As mental health disciplines begin to wrestle with the implications of nature connectedness
and ecological trauma, counselors can also seize on their unique roles in the face of global
ecological changes, especially with the newfound professional realization that fostering a
deeper connection with nature has psychosocial healing effects for clients. The counseling
profession has a momentous opportunity to empower clients to gain an enhanced sense of
control over their own well-being by deepening their relationship with the natural world, to
respond with their crisis counseling skills to escalating ecological disasters, and to assist clients
with emotions surrounding ecological anxiety and disaster and working with clients toward a
more empowered state. Counselors can also call upon their professional ethics and role as social
advocates in terms of climate change mitigation, but especially in advocating for the inclusion
of counseling services in community resilience and disaster response planning. Nature-based
counseling is a poignant approach for counselors to consider for assisting clients with emotions
surrounding solastalgia, or the grief that people feel when natural environments they are
attached to have been devastated (Higginbotham et al. 2007).

Future Research

The World Health Organization (2012) reports that over 450 million people have mental
health disorders worldwide and that many more go undiagnosed and untreated. Furthermore,
Int J Adv Counselling (2014) 36:162174 171

rates of mental illness continue to rise. For instance results from the 2009 US National
Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that one in five Americans has some form of
mental illness and over 60 % of those do not receive mental health treatment (Substance
Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 2010). Is there possibly a connection
between the continual rise in the rates of mental illness and a lack of a connection to the
natural world in the face of an escalating global environmental crisis? This broad question is
one the counseling profession could research from a variety of angles. For example, is the
use of nature-based techniques efficacious when working with clients who are survivors of
natural disasters and what can the counseling profession do to advocate for the inclusion of
counseling services in community resilience planning?
More research is needed in the counseling profession to explore the ameliorative impact
of nature experiences with specific disorders that could yield critical information regarding
new ways to treat specific conditions with nature-based therapies. Additionally, certain
personality types may have unique proclivities in the ways they prefer to connect with
nature. Incorporating nature-based tenets into counseling for persons diagnosed with de-
pression or children with ADHD, for example, may reduce symptomatology, particularly for
those clients living in urban areas affected by pollution, crime, and poverty and who have
limited access to green environments. Nature-based approaches, while perhaps not
supplanting psychopharmacological regimens, may nonetheless offer clients empowering
ways to manage their conditions.

Conclusion

In conclusion, a growing body of research lends strong empirical support for the
counseling profession to embrace nature-based approaches. An overwhelming amount
of evidence suggests that nature is at least as powerful an intervention as anything
counseling professionals currently use to enhance client and community wellness. This
new perspective can help counselors understand how viewing and being in nature can,
therefore, serve as an effective treatment modality with huge potential for practice and
research. As mental health professionals across disciplines begin to grapple with the
benefits of nature connectedness and ecotherapy, the counseling profession would do
well to continue to research and expand its role in this arena for the benefit of clients
and the promotion of well-being globally.

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