Nature’s Touch: How Does Outdoor Therapy Help With Trauma?

Addiction Recovery Publishing Addiction Recovery July 6, 2023

Nature's Touch: How Does Outdoor Therapy Help With Trauma?

Many people minimize trauma as either a modern buzzword or as something that doesn’t directly affect them. Both of these lines of thinking are false. According to the peer-reviewed journal Psychological Medicine, “General population studies have shown that a large proportion of people in developed countries have been exposed to at least one [traumatic experience] in their lifetime (estimates from 28 to 90%), with the most common events being the unexpected death of a loved one, motor vehicle accidents and being mugged.” With percentages this high, it is important to treat those individuals struggling with trauma in more comprehensive and holistic ways. This includes the use of outdoor therapy.

Because many people may not realize how prevalent trauma actually is in today’s society, or perhaps because it has been so normalized that it is getting less noticed than it should be, more attention should be brought to the subject. More expansive approaches should also be made to treat issues of trauma. Yes, the “traditional” mental health care methods are still effective tools in treating trauma. These are methods such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). However, these methods are made all the more effective when used in tandem with other treatment modalities. These are modalities such as nutrition therapy, naturopathic infusions, and, yes, outdoor therapy.

What Exactly Is Outdoor Therapy?

As with any treatment modality, it will be helpful to garner an industry/professional definition of outdoor therapy. According to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, “Outdoor therapies are intentional therapeutic processes that are place-based, feature active bodily engagement, and recognize nature-human kinship. These approaches have shown improvement across a wide range of social, emotional, physical, physiological, and psychological outcomes and populations.” Of course, simply heading outdoors, while healthy and recommended, most likely isn’t going to fulfill the requirements of outdoor therapy. It is an intensive therapy that necessitates work with a professional mental health specialist.

Yes, it is important to note the distinction between traditional outdoor activities and outdoor therapy because though they can appear very similar, outdoor therapy includes both the experience of nature as well as direct work and follow-up with a professional. Essentially nature can work as a conduit that can help a client engage with the therapist. Not only are they engaging with the outdoors, but they are also engaging with someone that can help them work through their core issues and root causes of their mental health difficulties.

Now, it is not as though this work is bifurcated between the external and the internal work. Often, a specialist will accompany the individual into natural settings and will offer cues inside as the experience is happening. Sometimes nature therapy works in a group setting, in which the individual experiences the therapy alongside individuals that are working through similar issues. This “shared experience” can be crucial both in reminding the individual that they are not alone, as well as offering purpose to help others along in their own journey. Quite often, it is helping others that we can help ourselves the most.

However, there are also times in nature therapy in which the individual experiences the physical explorative journey entirely solo. This allows for extreme self-reflection and a wholly personalized opportunity to commune with their surroundings. These experiences can then be presented to a specialist or therapist for analysis in a more “traditional” setting. Again, this is another example of why having a multi-tiered recovery plan can be pivotal. One modality supports the other.

How Can Outdoor Therapy Help With Issues of Mental Health?

Outdoor therapy offers an array of benefits that can be applied to a broad spectrum of mental health disorders and addictions. Some of these benefits can be felt and seen on the surface level in a quick fashion. However, other benefits take longer to come to fruition, but they are worth it. These less visible benefits are the ones that come from working at the core/root level and focusing on healing that occurs on the cellular level.

Outdoor Therapy and Stress Levels

One of the benefits that can often be felt almost instantaneously is the ability of nature therapy to reduce stress levels. According to an article released by Harvard Health Publishing, A 20-Minute Nature Break Relieves Stress, “Spending just 20 minutes connecting with nature can help lower stress hormone levels,” and “spending at least 20 to 30 minutes immersed in a nature setting was associated with the biggest drop in cortisol levels.” This stress reduction also relates to the physical activity that is often inevitable when engaging in nature therapy. 

According to the article Levels of Nature and Stress Response in the physiological journal Behavioral Sciences, “Natural environments can often provide the setting for physical activity, with numerous studies reporting the beneficial effects of “green” exercise,” also “exercise in outdoor settings has been reported to be more restorative and stress-reductive than indoor exercise,” and “walking in greenspaces and other outdoor settings has been linked to increases in self-esteem and overall mood levels.” Not only does nature therapy reduce stress, but it does so by utilizing the benefits of physical activity. 

Also, these are not the only benefits that are linked. In fact, nearly all of the positive aspects of nature therapy are intertwined, so it often becomes a “one-for-all” benefits package.

Nature Therapy and Perspective

Another advantage of nature therapy is how it can often put one’s life into perspective. It is not surprising that many of us lose ourselves and our connection to the world in our everyday lives. Many of us spend the majority of our time indoors and online. This is no one’s fault. It is the nature of the 21st Century. This issue is that an imbalance now exists between the natural world and the digital one that ultimately is causing both physical and mental harm.

Nature therapy can help bring this balance back and make life more meaningful. Now this is not as esoteric as it sounds. There are very observable factors that can lead to this benefit of perspective. As previously mentioned, nature therapy reduces stress, and reduced stress leads to improvements in sleep patterns, increases creativity, and helps with racing thoughts and negative thought processes. This is the positive “domino effect” that nature therapy can have.

When our lives are put into perspective, we are better able to see the causes of our problems. Yes, sometimes, these problems are surface-level. For example, a client, coworker, or employee may be taking advantage, and we need perspective to advocate for ourselves. Perhaps, there was a life change that was staring us right in the face, like making a physical move or a relationship change, that we needed perspective to address.

However, while all of these benefits of nature therapy can help address any mental health struggle, they can be exceptionally advantageous for those individuals struggling with underlying core trauma issues. These are the less visible and immediate effects of nature therapy. Yet, they also have the potential to be the most pivotal. 

How Can Outdoor Therapy Specifically Help With Trauma

According to the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, How to Manage Trauma, “70% of adults in the U.S. have experienced some type of traumatic event at least once in their lives. That’s 223.4 million people.” To put that further into perspective, that is over two-thirds of the U.S. population. This only bolsters the fact that sole trauma treatments aren’t as effective as they need to be, which is why expanding the approach into more experiential therapies like nature therapy is crucial.

It is important to understand that trauma isn’t always as observable as one might think. For example, trauma can occur in childhood and not show visible effects until much later in life. This is because one of the ways that individuals deal with trauma is through repression and denial. Often, this is not intentional either. It is merely the psyche’s way of handling trauma at the moment. However, over time this trauma becomes a core/root issue that often manifests in both painful emotions and negative behaviors.

Trauma can often cause individuals to retreat from the outside world. To avoid further pain, individuals also often try to isolate themselves from others. When this happens, an individual’s world becomes very small and stifling. In this state, there can be little hope for growth and improvement. However, simply re-engaging with the outside world isn’t enough, or at least an effective start, for many people. Why? Because the outside world that they often first engage with is the same or very similar to the environment that harmed them. This is why outdoor therapy can be critical.

The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health recently reported that “a green environment could promote health and recovery in humans… activities in a natural environment can significantly improve self-esteem and reduce overall negative feelings” and “indicated that having contact with nature could reduce mental fatigue and mitigate aggression and violence.” When underlying trauma or traumas exist, they can influence every aspect of our behavior and impede our ability to manage or function emotionally or cognitively. Ultimately, if untreated, trauma can dictate our entire upon life and influence our every decision.

Being able to escape from toxic surroundings and engage with the outdoors can offer an ideal start to trauma healing. Rather than presenting negative distractions, outdoor therapy offers a positive environment in which one can clear away the debris, wreckage, and pain of their past so they can then begin to address the root-core causes of their trauma. 

Getting to the Root-Core Causes of Trauma

What occurs on the surface level is often but a symptom of deeper underlying emotional issues. This is often where past trauma remains, and until it is addressed, an individual’s emotional well-being is only going to get worse. Trauma can act like any other chronic disorder. Just like any biological illness, such as heart disease, diabetes, or cancer, without professional intervention, trauma will not magically cure itself.

This is why delving into the root causes of trauma is crucial. However, this is often a very intense and potentially painful process. Outdoor therapy can help soften this process and make it more personal and engaging. Instead of simply investigating the underlying issues of trauma, which is, of course, important, outdoor therapy allows an individual to safely access traumatic experiences through natural experiences. This can be a much more interconnected mind-body experience, which is what holistic treatment is all about, and holistic treatment should always be comprehensive rather than solitary.

Utilizing Multiple Treatment Modalities for the Best Recovery Outcomes

Here at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab, we do not believe in the “one-size-fits-all” “cookie-cutter” model of recovery. What we mean by that is that we have found that offering diverse and varied forms of treatment modalities delivers the best chances of a well-rounded long-term recovery. These modalities exist in the traditional, experiential, and holistic realms. They also focus on all aspects of healing the self: the physical, emotional, and mental.

Regarding the physical body, here at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab, we make a concerted effort to heal from the inside out. This is why we have two nutritionists, a dietician, and a licensed naturopathic doctor (ND) on-site. Often, individuals struggling with trauma, addiction, or other issues of mental health come to treatment physically depleted. They lack the essential nutrients and vitamins that aren’t just critical for recovery and life. That is why we focus on utilizing “medicine as food,” and our on-site gourmet chefs not only prepare the type of healing git microbiome-focused food necessary, but our dieticians also show how to prepare these meals after leaving rehab.

We also offer our clients a unique way of healing via pharmaceutical-grade supplements and Concierge IV infusion services, such as Myers cocktails, Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) infusions, and Glutathione treatments. These infusions have been shown to have a positive impact on the body by helping with exhaustion, managing stress levels, increasing mental acuity, enhancing mood, improving physical performance, and more. By ensuring the wellness of the physical body, we make it more possible for the other aspects of the self to heal.

This healing may come in the form of traditional mental health therapies like CBT, DBT, interpersonal therapy, group therapy, psychodynamic therapy, and humanistic therapy. Our highly regarded licensed therapists can help get to the root causes of trauma and then create a recovery plan that can help work through some of the negative behavioral effects that are related to these underlying issues. We have found that these recovery plans are effectively bolstered by the use of nature therapy, as well as other holistic means.

There may be no better place to recover using holistic means than in Hawaii. Yes, it offers the perfect setting for nature therapy, but it also offers the perfect setting for holistic and restorative exercises like yoga. According to the International Journal of Yoga, “Yogic practices enhance muscular strength and body flexibility, promote and improve respiratory and cardiovascular function, promote recovery from and treatment of addiction, reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain, improve sleep patterns, and enhance overall well-being and quality of life.” It is all about interconnected whole mind-body healing at the molecular level at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab.

The Unique Recovery Opportunities at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab

Here at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab, we do not believe in the lone-modality healing experience. While a traditional treatment setting may be effective for some, it is not for everybody. For those individuals that have found previous recovery experiences lacking, or those that want to avoid “one-size-fits-all” treatment altogether, we have the comprehensive, holistic approach that they may be looking for.

Now, does this mean that we don’t approve of traditional recovery methods? Absolutely not. As previously mentioned, we offer many of them ourselves. We want to see as many people recover as possible, and if those methods work for them, then we wish and hope for them a successful long-term recovery.

However, here at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab, we have found that holistic healing that focuses on healing at the cellular level has been the most effective way to achieve whole mind-body recovery. This includes those struggling with the core causes of trauma, as well as the use of outdoor therapy. Our goal is to heal our clients on the inside, and our outside environment allows us to better achieve that.

Healing from trauma requires a multipronged approach to care. It’s also a personal journey that needs to be unique based on the individual’s needs. Nature can provide the opportunity to allow an individual to explore and develop the coping mechanisms they need to address the core of their trauma. Exclusive Hawaii Rehab is the only accredited primary mental health care center in Hawaii and uses nature as a central part of therapy to help individuals heal from their traumatic experiences. From the beaches to the trails to interacting with animals, the Hawaii landscape is never short of opportunities to help one grow. For more information on the benefits of outdoor therapy, reach out to Exclusive Hawaii Rehab at (808) 775-0200.