It’s More Than Fishing – How “Ecotherapy” Works
Ecotherapy – a nice term for what many may believe is just a fancy way of saying do cool stuff outside. Nothing could be further from the truth. Howard Clinebell, who wrote the book on ecotherapy in 1996, stated the term refers to healing and growth nurtured by healthy interaction with the earth. This therapy has become more mainstream as people spend more time indoors, and are looking for a way to manage stress, depression and whole host of other issues without the use of drugs or more traditional psychotherapy.
According to an article in Psychology Today, we crave being in nature. It’s in our makeup to want to be outdoors, immersed in the calming effect it brings to us. In today’s societal makeup, the ability to “unplug” is a rare gift – so rare there are entire vacation clubs dedicated to finding ways to unplug and get away. Nature is calming, and gives us a chance to simply be.
It’s Proven – We Need to be Outdoors
When Heroes on the Water first began kayak fishing experiences, we could see and feel first-hand the impact on our warriors. But we really didn’t know why or what was happening. Was it just the ability to unplug? Was there something to being in a kayak? Was it the fishing? Maybe it was just the camaraderie of the group setting. Perhaps, it was a little of all of them, and fortunately, we were able to find out.
Troy State University included Heroes on the Water in a study to prove how ecotherapy works as a therapeutic modality for veterans with post-traumatic stress. Conducted by Dr. Kate Price-Howard and Dr. Miles Matise, the rationale for the study included the following:
- Since 2001, more than 2 million U.S. veterans have served in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF- Afghanistan) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF- Iraq) (Sayer, 2011). According to the Veterans Health Administration (2009) approximately two-fifths of these veterans receive some kind of healthcare and social services through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Of the remaining three-fifths, if they seek treatment, do so through community resources. “Over one-third of veterans returning from deployment have a mental health diagnosis, and many more struggle with challenges of reintegration to family and civilian life” (Snyder & Monson, 2012, p. 301).While not all returning veterans from OIF and OEF have a mental health diagnosis, most experience some kind of adjustment issues as they reintegrate into civilian and family life because thoughts and behaviors needed to survive in war are not necessarily helpful in a civilian life-style. According to the Department of Defense’s Task Force on Mental Health (2007), mental health personnel lack the resources and are unable to meet the demands of service members and their families in a timely manner (Snyder & Monson, 2012).
Buzzell & Chalquist (2009) describe ecopsychology as a term that encompasses various treatment models that focus on the natural environment as a source of healing for individuals. Assumptions underlying ecotherapy include: a) Modern people living in industrialized nations are more and more disconnected from the natural world, which is an indicator of psychological maladies, such as anxiety, depression, increased stress and interpersonal conflict; b) Reconnection to the natural world, whether plants, animals, gardening, walks in nature can help reduce symptoms of isolation, loneliness, anxiety, and depression (Chalquist, 2009).
- In this study, they looked at the program of Heroes on the Water (HOW), founded in 2007. This program helps our Nation’s warriors and veterans from all military branches of the United States military relax and decompress using the therapeutic qualities of fishing from kayaks. This program provides an alternative therapy option for individuals diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and/or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
The approach included an initial study of 79 participants over the course of 180 days using data collection in a pre- and post-trip survey method utilizing both quantitative and qualitative methods. This study looked at the 4 areas based upon the categories of symptoms that correspond with exposure to a traumatic event according to the DSM-5 (2013) which are: These areas are:
- Re-experiencing (nightmares, flashbacks).
- Avoidance (people, places, items that trigger).
- Hyper-vigilance or arousal (on alert).
The results were astounding.
The participants showed the following reductions in symptoms:
- Stress – reduced by 56%
- Re-experiencing – reduced by 60%
- Avoidance – reduced by 63%
- Hyper-vigilance – reduced by 62%
It’s more than fishing – it’s a therapeutic modality that is proven to work.
Let’s Go Fishing
It’s difficult for many to ask for assistance. Let’s be real – it’s difficult for anyone to think about going for therapy. There’s simply a stigma attached, whether we like it or not. Furthermore, many of our active-duty military members and veterans don’t feel comfortable reaching out for help. It’s kind of like going into your bosses’ office and asking for the number to a therapist. Again, not something any of us would want to do.
How much simpler, and less stressful, is it to reach out to someone and simply say, “Hey, let’s go fishing.”?
The results speak for themselves – kayak fishing is proven to be therapeutic, and proven to work for multiple issues related to combat deployment.
Our nation’s heroes give up a lot for our freedom. And all we have to do is take them fishing to provide them with some much-needed assistance and support.
The results are in, and the participants have spoken – all you have to do is decide to take them fishing.
Donate today and your donation will support veterans and their families in returning to an active, full life.
- $25 provides lures, bait and fishing supplies
- $50 provides half a day of kayak fishing
- $100 is a full day of kayak fishing
- $1,000 purchases one outfitted kayak
We provide kayak fishing experiences for free, and include everything needed for warriors and their families to fully participate, including adaptive kayaks, education and training. Join us and let’s go fishing!