ACA Blog

Feb 25, 2013

PsychoFARMacology – There are often alternatives to a psychiatric referral. Part two of two.

For generations experts and laypeople have recommended the benefits of spending time in the countryside, taking walks in the woods, gardening and other nature related activities. This feeling of well being is based mostly on personal experience or anecdotal observations. With the advent of modern medicine and sophisticated instrumentation, science has begun to identify why and how such activities actually do benefit us. By offering a distraction from daily stressors, providing tactile stimulation as well as diversions from related known causes of stress and depression, new findings are now providing information on how these activities provide psychobiological improvements.

Beyond a scenic walk filled with visual stimuli, recent study has shown that individuals who walked in a rural setting were found to get more benefits than individuals who took walks of similar duration in urban areas. Beyond the tactile stimulation from soil, plants and other related materials by the hands (and possibly feet!) of those who are gardening, research has shown that certain bacteria and other nutrients found in soil can, if absorbed in sufficient levels, potentially work with chemicals in the body to help reduce anxiety and depression and in some cases increase the strength of the immune system. Demonstrated with the use of lab mice, these interactions have shown to have measurable benefits. If they may not increase the length of life, they may indeed increase the quality of the life in the recipients.

While recent studies provide hope for additional tools that may be utilized by practitioners in the treatment of a wide range of disorders, these discoveries do not promise to replace traditional therapies such as behavioral interventions and treatment and/or psychopharmacological interventions and maintenance though they may aid these interventions and reduce the need in some measurable ways. Resurgence in nature based treatments can be seen in the emergence of therapeutic farms, nature based programs as well as sensory programming.

Who knows, maybe with some hard work on the part of clinical professionals and the expansion of therapeutic nature based programs, some day when you tell someone to go take a hike, instead of feeling insulted they will respond “thank you, I never knew you cared.”


Warren Corson III (Doc Warren) is a counselor, writer and the clinical & executive director of Community Counseling of Central CT and Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm (www.docwarren.org).

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