The Healing Power of Hiking or Walking With Your Therapist

healing power through hiking

For centuries, humans have known the healing power of Mother Earth. Priests and doctors alike have looked to spring or mineral water for its therapeutic effects, while monks have sought out the peace and solitude of nature for prayer and meditation. Like those before them, they knew that something special happens when we spend time outdoors, restoring our mental energy and providing a sense of clarity that can’t be found elsewhere.

Even in today’s modern age, this still holds true. Maybe even more so since the COVID-19 pandemic, as more people struggle with their mental health amid the social distancing, lockdown and quarantine measures that have been put in place to prevent the spread of infection. With few outlets and little else to do, we’ve once again turned to nature for solace and comfort, hoping to find some relief from the stress of current events.

At Choice House, we’ve seen time and again how the great outdoors can improve our health and wellness, especially for those suffering from addiction or mental illness. Located in Boulder, Colorado, our facility is surrounded by the rugged beauty of the Rocky Mountains, providing an ideal setting for hiking, walking and other activities that harness the healing power of nature. By taking therapy outside, we give clients the chance to experience the multitude of benefits that fresh air and open skies can have on their recovery.

A SHIFT TO THE GREAT OUTDOORS

Most therapy sessions take place indoors, usually in a clinical or office setting. In the last two years, therapists, psychiatrists, counselors and other providers have also ventured more into the online world, addressing client’s issues remotely through a computer screen. This novel approach expanded to improve access to mental health care during lockdown, but often the experience just didn’t feel the same for those involved.

In response, another option has become increasingly popular for both practical and logistical reasons: outdoor therapy. By combining traditional therapy with the restorative effects of nature, mental health providers are able to offer a safe yet powerful solution to in-person treatment that upholds social distancing guidelines. Despite challenges such as maintaining confidentiality and the lack of a boundaried space, many therapists have been doing this for years. The practice has simply grown as both patients and providers discover the therapeutic benefits of walking, talking or hiking together outside.

But outdoor therapy is more than just taking a pleasant stroll through the park and giving clients a scenic backdrop in which to tackle their problems. Therapists working outdoors are trained to conduct sessions in a way that intentionally uses the natural setting to promote insight, awareness and self-reflection in clients while navigating the unique dynamics and nuances involved. This means developing individualized treatment plans based on evidence-based techniques to ensure that clients get the most out of each experience.

HOW DOES OUTDOOR THERAPY WORK?

Outdoor or nature therapy can tell you a lot about someone. Compared to a traditional indoor setting, there’s something more freeing about being in a natural environment, and seeing how clients respond can provide meaningful insights into their mental state. Outdoor therapy also lets individuals go deeper than they might otherwise to explore the root of their issues. Studies show that feeling connected to nature can significantly reduce negative thoughts and behaviors, making it easier for clients to open up and process what they’re going through.

That’s why outdoor therapy works so well for so many people. When walking or hiking with a therapist instead of sitting across from them in a stuffy room, people tend to feel safer and less focused on what they’re “supposed” to do or say. Nature provides a neutral space, and by utilizing aspects of the surrounding environment that resonate most with clients — whether it be the trees, mountains or water — therapists can help them better identify and discharge difficult emotions like fear or anxiety.

The act of movement is also a key component of outdoor therapy. The pace, path or direction that clients choose offers additional clues into their state of mind, while the fresh air and exercise can boost their overall mood. Being active can also combat the feeling of being “stuck” in recovery and bring back a renewed sense of hope and progress. Men especially benefit from movement in outdoor or adventure therapy, as it rekindles their motivation and helps to rebuild some of the confidence they lost to addiction or mental illness.

HOW TO REAP THE BENEFITS OF NATURE IN THE CITY

Nature doesn’t have to be total wilderness, mountains or forests, and outdoor therapy isn’t only for clients who live in a rural setting. Those in urban areas can also access the healing power of nature by going to public parks, gardens or landscapes found in the city. Regardless of where you live, what matters most is that you find a place where you can deepen your connection to yourself and the natural world. Daily life can feel hectic in the concrete jungle, but immersing ourselves in green, open spaces can help remind us what makes us happy and lend a sense of beauty, awe and meaning to our lives.

Most big cities offer outdoor therapy to help clients heal from addiction and mental illness, but you can also reap the benefits of nature in your down time. Even taking a walk with a friend or family member can vastly improve your health, energy and mental wellness and help you feel more relaxed. During this time, you can choose to talk and listen to what the other has to say, or simply enjoy each other’s company — the point is there’s no pressure to do anything in particular or come up with the right answers. The natural setting and moment of connection or solidarity can be helpful if you’re struggling with something, and sometimes that’s enough to make you feel loved and supported.

Similarly, you can also supplement the benefits of outdoor therapy by going out on your own and exploring what your local area has to offer. Regardless of where you live, you’re likely to find nearby parks or nature reserves and plenty of opportunities to hike, camp or kayak. Take this opportunity to discover new hobbies or interests that are conducive to your recovery. You might be surprised at what you’re capable of if you give yourself a chance.

At Choice House, we know that incorporating the healing power of nature into your recovery can inspire new levels of personal growth. Being outdoors has been shown to promote greater self-reflection, awareness and mindfulness, encouraging clients to address their issues in new and exciting ways. That’s why outdoor and adventure therapy is a core part of our recovery curriculum, helping men to heal what’s on the inside by getting outside. To learn more about the therapeutic benefits of nature and how we incorporate this in our treatment programs, contact or call us today at 303-578-4981.