The Nature Cure
Why some doctors are writing prescriptions for time outdoors…
The first time J. Phoenix Smith told me that soil has healing properties that can help thwart depression, I just nodded slowly.
Smith is an ecotherapist, a practitioner of nature-based exercises intended to address both mental and physical health. Which means she recommends certain therapies that trigger in me, as a medical doctor, more skepticism than serenity: Listen to birdsong, in your headphones if necessary. Start a garden, and think of the seeds’ growth as a metaphor for life transitions. Find a spot in a park and sit there for 20 minutes every week, without checking your phone, noting week-to-week and seasonal changes in a journal.
Ecotherapy is a fledgling profession, still unrestrained by such things as “standards of practice” and “licensing requirements.” It can mean regular outdoor sessions with a therapist or simple exercises undertaken on one’s own, and can be part of a general approach to well-being or a supplement to treatment for a medical condition. (It is not intended as a replacement for standard evidence-based treatments.)