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Nature therapy, sometimes referred to as ecotherapy, describes a broad group of techniques or treatments that use an individual's presence within nature with the intention of improving an individual's mental or physical health. It is based on the principles of ecopsychology, which look at how we feel interconnected with the earth.
Examples of nature therapy include forest bathing or shinrin-yoku, horticultural therapy, and grounding, or earthing.
In the 6th century BCE, Cyrus the Great planted a garden in the middle of a city in an effort to increase human health. In the 16th century CE, Paracelsus wrote: “The art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician.”
Researching scientists, during the 1950s, decided to look into the reasoning behind why so many people chose to spend time in nature, with special reference to famous locations like national parks. Howard Clinebell coined the term "ecotherapy" in 1996.
Shinrin-yoku (森林浴), which literally means forest bathing, originated in Japan in the early 1980s, and may be regarded as a form of nature therapy. Investigations on the physiological effects that result from being in a forest began in Japan in 1990 and continue today. In April 2018, Qing Li, a doctor at Nippon Medical School in Japan, published a book on the topic after his 25 years of research on the matter. The book was published in English and plans include translation of the book into multiple languages.[better source needed]
Grounding, or earthing, is a pseudoscientific practice that involves people grounding themselves using devices by touching the earth or removing shoes. People who ground themselves for health reasons consider that, due to modern electromagnetic transmissions and fields, they are exposed to unnaturally high levels of electromagnetic radiation which negatively interferes with their health. Some critics argue that the positive effects of grounding on mood are due to a placebo effect.
There has been an increasing interest in the study of nature therapy and its forms over the past few decades, as there is an important exploration of how a person's overall quality of life can be improved through their interaction with nature and a decrease in factors like stress or depression.
The process of nature therapy
- Stressed state: A person is in a state of physical or emotional stress.
- Restorative effects of nature: The person spends time in nature, resulting in improvements in physiological relaxation and the immune function recovery response.
- Evidence-based medicine (EBM): Nature directly increases the parasympathetic nervous system and heightens awareness, causing relaxation.
Health effects (physical and psychological)
Nature therapy, and shinrin-yoku specifically, has been linked to a number of physiological benefits, as well as neuropsychological benefits, as indicated by neuroimaging and validated psychological tests such as the Profile of Mood States (POMS). Spending time in nature can improve immune, cardiovascular, and respiratory functioning. Nature therapy can provide emotional healing, decrease blood pressure, improve a person's general sleep-wake cycle, improve relationship skills, reduce stress, and reduce aggression. Nature therapy can help with general medical recovery, pain reduction, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, dementia, obesity, and other disorders like vitamin D deficiencies. A 2007 study from the University of Essex in the U.K., for example, found that a walk in the country reduced depression in 71% of participants. The researchers found that as little as five minutes in a natural setting, whether walking in a park or gardening in the backyard, improves mood, self-esteem, and motivation.
However, a 2012 systematic review study showed inconclusive results related to methodological issues across the literature. Subsequently, a 2017 systematic review of the benefits of spending time in forests demonstrated positive health effects, but not enough to generate clinical practice guidelines or demonstrate causality. Additionally, there are concerns from researchers expressing that time spent in nature as a form of regenerative therapy is highly personal and entirely unpredictable; in fact, the nature can be harmed in the process of human interaction.
One of the earliest and most studied forms of nature therapy is forest therapy.  A 2020 systematic review of recent forest therapy studies concluded that "forest therapy plays an important role in preventive medicine and stress management for all age groups", however the researchers acknowledged that there was a need for more research on its sustained effects.  Forest therapy has received state-backing in Japan and South Korea.
Horticulture therapy, a notable form of nature therapy, has been linked to physiological changes within patients participating in an inpatient cardiopulmonary rehabilitation program; the patients experienced an overall diminishing effect of disturbance to their mood and a noticeable decrease in their measured heart rates, respectively. Horticulture therapy has also been linked to supporting a person's general well-being by boosting their positive mood and providing a viable escape from stressors occurring in daily life, as can be seen in a studied population that possessed professional diagnoses in both physical and psychological capacities. Although there is a heavy amount of anecdotal evidence supporting the psycho-social benefits of nature therapy, cancer patients provided positive feedback after participating in the Healing Gardens Program at Cancer Lifeline in Seattle; the program has been recommended for therapeutic purposes for adult cancer patients. Social horticulture helps with depression and other mental health problems of people from risk groups: people with PTSD, victims of abuse, lonely elderly people, drug or alcohol addicts, blind people and other people with special needs.
The effects of nature therapy can be connected to two theories, known as the Stress Reduction Theory (SRT) and the Attention Restoration Theory (ART).
Apart from physical and psychological well-being, nature therapy also can help to improve social well-being (guided ecotherapy practices can improve self-management, self-esteem, social relations and skills, socio-political awareness and even employability).
While there exists a limited number of available studies to reference for the definitive conclusion regarding the success of nature therapy as a common practice, forms of nature therapy have been deemed sufficient in serving as complementary therapy for adult medical usage. There are signs of this field being a notable practice among children or within pediatric studies in the future.
Today there are many cases all over the world of the medical prescription of nature. In California, a pilot program for families in parks was introduced. In Finland, government-funded researchers recommend a minimum nature dose of five hours a month in order to reduce the level of depression, alcoholism, and suicide. In South Korea, there is a free program of nature therapy sponsored by the local government for firefighters suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
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