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Walking and talking

Is it easier to open up – and heal – in nature? A growing number of therapists believe so, and are moving their services outdoors. Alice Wright tries an ecotherapy session to find out

It’s a bright February morning when I meet Malachy Dunne on the shores of Argal Lake, which nestles in a valley near the Cornish town of Penryn. The sun has just come up as we set offto walk around the water, passing through woodland, wetland and meadows. This is one of Dunne’s favourite spots for conducting walk-and-talk therapy sessions, also known as ecotherapy, and I’m here to experience the benefits of outdoor counselling first-hand.

The benefits of ecotherapy are becoming more widely recognised, and a growing number of counsellors offer outdoor sessions. This is backed up by numerous studies highlighting the healing power of nature. For example, researchers at the University of Essex found that, of a group of people suffering from depression, 90 per cent felt a higher level of self-esteem after taking a walk through a country park, and almost three quarters of the group felt less dispirited after the walk. Last year, GPs on the Shetland Islands began issuing ‘nature prescriptions’, which instruct patients with chronic conditions to take strolls on beaches and moors, with a list of bird and plant species to look out for as they wander.

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