Benefits of Nature in Addiction Recovery: What New Studies Reveal
“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Can you quantify nature’s benefits? A recent article in Outside Magazine highlighted two major studies that supported the notion that exposure to nature can actually improve our mental health. One study, in particular, stood out to the scientific community as it was a first-of-its-kind randomized control trial (Journal of the American Medical Association Network Open, 2018.) In the study, researchers from multiple U.S. universities, funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, discreetly altered the environment of an entire city to ask if changing the quality of open and green spaces results in a detectable shift in residents’ safety, criminal behavior, and mental health. 541 vacant lots across the city of Philadelphia were randomly selected, and each lot either received no help, received regular trash removal and mowing, or were turned into open pocket parks, with trees and a wooden fence.
What did the researchers find? The residents of neighborhoods where lots had been greened were much healthier psychologically than those whose lots had been cleaned. Around greened lots, “neighborhood-level rates of feeling depressed dropped by 42 percent, feeling worthless by 51 percent, and having generally poor mental health by 63 percent.” Whether or not you believe nature’s healing power can be scientifically proven, most people will agree that when we get out into nature, it nurtures and restores our body, mind, and soul. For this reason, nature is one of the most potent assets in healing from addiction. So, how can spending time in nature help those in recovery?
Experiential Outdoor Therapies
More and more recreation-based therapies and experiential outdoor activities are being integrated into rehabilitation centers than ever before. Outdoor therapy and activities have been found to help those in addiction treatment learn to problem solve, establish boundaries, develop healthy coping skills to deal with emotions that can be triggering, and also provide a way to engage in healthier pursuits as part of a sober lifestyle. There is a myriad of activities that individuals can take part in while participating in an outdoor therapy program for substance abuse such as:
- outdoor yoga
- horseback riding
- rope course
Wilderness Adventure Therapy Programs
Wilderness Adventure Therapy programs also referred to as Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare (OBH) have long recognized the healing qualities of nature. A recent landmark study (Children and Youth Services Review, 2018) by researchers at the University of New Hampshire has found that youth who went through an outdoor behavioral program showed almost three times the improvement after one year than youth who remained in their communities for more traditional treatment. “It shows that adolescents who took part in the outdoor behavioral healthcare programs had a significant decrease in their symptoms – including depression, anxiety, and substance abuse – for a longer period of time, no matter their gender, race, or age.”
What can you expect from an Adventure Therapy Program?
Adventure therapy places individuals in an outdoor environment to focus on self-improvement and overcoming problem behaviors. Wilderness therapy is especially successful in treating those with a dual diagnosis such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD. These outdoor programs generally consist of:
- Group living, individual and group therapy, education therapy, as well as nature and survival skill experiences.
- Licensed mental health professionals lead the therapy sessions, and other trained staff members teach basic survival skills and self-care. Common activities include hiking, preparing campsites, and building fires.
- Individuals in these outdoor behavioral programs often learn coping strategies and interpersonal skills they can then apply to their lives outside of rehab.
- Programs mostly occur outdoors, though some can take place indoors – and in rural or urban settings.
Adventure therapy mimics real-life instances that occur outside the therapy session, and the client is directly involved in the treatment and works cooperatively within the group. A report in the USDA Forest Service Proceedings discussed three phases typically practiced in wilderness therapy,
- Cleansing – a period during which the individual is removed from any negative influences in his or her life.
- Personal and social responsibilities – the individual learns to be responsible for the choices he or she makes. They also learn how to express emotions constructively and foster healthy relationships.
- Transition and aftercare – a crucial part of maintaining a lasting recovery is the aftercare a person receives. Many individuals need to continue treatment at a residential or outpatient facility or attend group meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous.
The adventure program length and amount of time spent in the wilderness can vary, but the end goal in this type of treatment is to foster personal responsibility while encouraging social and emotional growth.
Addiction and Treatment
Nature provides a balance for our body, mind, and spirit and is an essential tool when healing from addiction. If you or a loved one is battling addiction or a substance use disorder, get help now. Make the life-saving decision to free yourself from the harmful and deadly effects of addiction and contact Daylight Recovery Services today at 1-833-2DAYLIGHT. Our specialized team uses researched-based addiction therapy while addressing the underlying components of drug addiction and recovery. While there is no cure for addiction, treatment is available and there is hope in recovery. Do not be afraid to ask for help.