By: Dr Caroll Hermann

Eco-therapy, is also known as nature therapy or green therapy or therapy in nature.  It is the applied practice of the emergent field of eco psychology.  Eco psychology was originally developed by Theodore Roszak and he coined the term ‘eco psychology’ in his book, The Voice of the Earth, in 1992.  While the human mind is affected and shaped by the modern social world, its deep structure is inevitably adapted to, and informed by, the more-than-human natural environment in which it evolved and has an innate instinct to connect emotionally with nature.  Eco psychology is informed by systems theory and provides individuals with an opportunity to explore their relationship with nature—an area that may be overlooked in many other types of psychotherapy. While some professionals teach and practice eco psychology exclusively, other mental health practitioners incorporate aspects of eco-therapy into their existing practices.  New trends by many practitioners are to take therapy outside (Jordan, 2014).

The University of Zululand approved and funded a research project by Dr. Caroll Hermann, to engage traumatised youths in the Dukuduku area in an eco-psychotherapeutic project using bonsai. Fifteen unemployed youths (with no previous diagnosis) who have witnessed or experienced traumatic incidents were asked to participate in the study. Several screening instruments, including the PHQ and Beck’s Depression and Anxiety scales were used as pre-tests.

All activities take place outside under trees and in a group setting. Participants were allowed to select trees from a nursery and start styling in a bonsai style. Participants are allowed to narrate their stories in a secure and relaxed manner in the group. After one session, all participants agreed that some of their anxiety had been alleviated, mainly due to the activity and the setting.

The project is expected to run over three years and is already considering expanding to nearby areas on request from the local chief.


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