Updated: Aug 28, 2021
Ecotherapy is the term used to describe a range of treatments and approaches, which aim to improve physical and mental health through interaction with and activities in nature. In the second part of the ecotherapy series, we explore what activities are considered Level 1 and how these can be used to support wellbeing.
What Constitutes Level 1 Ecotherapy?
In her essay, entitled ‘The Many Ecotherapies’, Linda Buzzell claims that there exist two levels of ecotherapy. The first of these, Level 1, is ‘described as human-centred nature therapy’ (Buzzell, 2016:70), the focus of which is ‘often based on a traditional Western world view that values humanity well above the rest of nature’ (Buzzell, 2016:71).
Ecotherapy activities and experiences which function at Level 1, Buzzell claims, have become more prevalent. Additionally, there is a growing body of research which supports the effectiveness of such approaches in promoting physical and mental wellbeing. As such, there has been a rise in demand for Level 1 ecotherapy activities.
The biggest criticism levied at Level 1 ecotherapies, however, is that they have a tendency to focus upon the human benefit, whilst not providing the same level of consideration towards nature. As such, there is a danger that we fail to fully connect with nature, both personally and more widely, on a cultural level. Instead, we use nature for our own gain, without giving something meaningful back in return.
However, whilst Buzzell states that Level 2 ecotherapies are the ones practitioners should be striving towards, she also acknowledges that it is sometimes necessary to begin with Level 1 approaches and activities. In this way, practitioners and individuals can learn to work towards Level 2 activities and experiences, which are deeper and more reciprocal in nature.
Examples Of Level 1 Ecotherapies
There are many different types of ecotherapy programmes available, offering a variety of activities for individuals to choose from. Moreover, for many people, undertaking these activities at Level 1 has proven highly beneficial and rewarding. As a result, many people have been able to better cope with and overcome a range of mental health and wellbeing issues.
Animal assisted therapy is one of the most popular types of ecotherapy on offer. This technique involves individuals building a therapeutic relationship with an animal, very often dogs or horses. Animal assisted interventions are also another popular activity, in which individuals go to spaces where they come into contact with animals, such as at a farm. Individuals can then enjoy some relaxing time feeding or petting the animals. Similarly care farming (or therapeutic farming activities) involve people looking after farm animals, as well as helping to grow crops or manage woodland.
Conservation is another increasingly popular ecotherapy technique. This approach, sometimes referred to as ‘Green Gyms’ combines caring for and protecting natural outdoors spaces with physical exercise. For more adventurous individuals, adventure therapy is also an option. This technique involves participants doing adventurous physical activities as part of a group. Activities include rock climbing, caving and rafting.
Green exercise therapy is probably one of the better-known forms of ecotherapy, which primarily involves undertaking exercise outdoors in green spaces. Individuals may go running, cycling or even simply walking outdoors.
For those more interested in arts and creative expression, nature arts and crafts are another option. This involves doing art either in nature, or with it. Individuals can use the environment for inspiration to create their own artwork, create art specifically in/for green outdoor spaces, or even using natural objects and materials to create the artwork (for example, leaves, grass, clay and wood).
Group activities are also a popular option, particularly for individuals who struggle with social anxiety or isolation issues. These sessions can help individuals to regain confidence and become part of a supportive community. Social and therapeutic horticulture, which involves gardening work, is a particularly good activity. These sessions often involve growing food in allotments, community centres or inside community buildings, such as libraries and village halls. They also offer participants the opportunity to gain valuable work experience (including selling the community grown produce) and even gain qualifications.
Alternatively, wilderness therapy, is another popular group activity. Wilderness therapy focuses on spending time in the wild, whilst doing activities together as a part of a group. Activities can include hiking or making shelters, for example.
Most importantly perhaps, individuals are not limited to only type of activity. Rather, there are a variety of activities on offer at Level 1 which ensure that there is something for everyone to choose from. Furthermore, Level 1 activities provide an important first step for individuals who are struggling or who may never have engaged in such practices before.
In the final instalment of our ecotherapy series, we will be discussing types of Level 2 activities and how we can adapt and deepen Level 1 activities and experiences to help create a deeper, more reciprocal human-nature rel