Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling

Relationship between Nature Relatedness and Holistic Wellness: An Exploratory Study

Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling

Relationship between Nature Relatedness and Holistic Wellness: An Exploratory Study

Article excerpt

Nature relatedness has been explored from interdisciplinary perspectives and found to be related to greater well-being. However, nature relatedness has not been incorporated into counseling-based holistic wellness models. This study of the relationship between nature relatedness and wellness provides implications for wellness theory, counseling practice, and research.

Keywords: holistic wellness, nature relatedness, EcoWellness


We can never have enough of nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, vast and titanic features, the sea-coast with its wrecks, the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the thunder-cloud, and the rain which lasts three weeks and produces freshets.

--Thoreau, 1854, p. 222

In the past decade, there has been an increase in global media attention on the negative impact human beings have on natural environments (e.g., Gore, 2006). A wide range of scholars in various disciplines, including ecopsychology and parks and recreation, have argued that as humans continue industrializing and polluting the earth, they are not only harming the world but also hurting themselves (e.g., Kuo, 2010; Roszak, 1992). Conversely, many interdisciplinary researchers have explored how exposure to natural environments, such as green spaces, can positively affect human wellness (Hartig, Mang, & Evans, 1991; Leather, Pyrgas, Beale, & Lawrence, 1998; Mailer, Townsend, Pryor, Brown, & St Leger, 2005; Wilson, Ross, Lafferty, & Jones, 2008). Although limited attention has been directed toward this issue in professional counseling, several authors have addressed the potential of outdoor settings as the basis for promoting positive self-esteem, mental health, and group cohesion (Fletcher & Hinkle, 2002; Fletcher & Meyer, 2009; Glass & Benshoff, 2002; Hinkle, 1999; Nassar-McMillan & Cashwell, 1997). Unfortunately, much of this writing is outdated, and the current literature in humanistic counseling reflects a dearth of attention to the human-nature connection.

Hansen (2006a) argued that for humanism to continue evolving as a field, humanistic counselors and scholars must expand their conceptualizations of the individual who seeks counseling. He posited that humanism has been "stuck" in self-singularity and challenged professionals in the field to integrate self-multiplicity into their thought. Such a change will provide humanistic counselors with the ability to know their clients more fully, a value that is at the heart of humanistic counseling (Hansen, 2006b). For counselors to avoid reductionism and fully embrace knowing, Hansen (2006b) advocated that "humans should be thought of as irreducibly whole beings" (p. 120). As one of the core tenets of humanistic theory (Hansen, 2006a), holism also lies at the heart of wellness models in counseling (Myers & Sweeney, 2008). However, a humanistic critique of such wellness models might suggest that an empirically based wellness model in and of itself is a reductionist approach rather than a humanistic one. A prime example, and the focus of this article, is the exclusion of one's connection with natural settings in wellness models in counseling. Some theorists have suggested that nature is an inextricable component of the human self (Kellert & Wilson, 1993); despite such an assertion, this portion of the human self has been excluded from wellness models and research in counseling.

For this article, nature is defined "as an organic environment where the majority of ecosystem processes are present (e.g., birth, death, reproduction, relationships between species)" (Mailer et al., 2005, p. 46). This definition allows for a broad range of interpretations of nature. Nature could be a plant sitting on an apartment ledge in midtown New York City, the pristine Olympic National Park in Washington, or a community park on the outskirts of San Diego. However they are defined and interpreted, natural environments appear to have a positive impact on holistic human wellness. …

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