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ADHD Alternative Treatments: Nature Therapy

Updated on July 23, 2009

There are a number of natural and behavioral treatments for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

One treatment that has been receiving a lot of attention in recent years is "nature therapy." Nature therapy is simply the use of natural settings and outdoor activities in treating a variety of mental disorders, including ADHD and ADD.

The idea came to popular attention thanks to the book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder, by Richard Louv. Although Louv does not focus exclusively on ADHD, he devotes an entire chapter to the growing evidence that exposure to the natural world can help ease the symptoms of ADHD, and perhaps even cure some cases entirely.

Nature Deficit Disorder

Scientific Basis of Nature Therapy for ADHD

Although there has been anecdotal evidence about the calming and restorative effect of natural settings on the human mind for decades, if not centuries, most of the scientific evidence is relatively recent.

In the 1970's, husband and wife environmental psychologists Stephen and Rachel Kaplan conducted a study involving Outward-Bound-type activity in natural settings for periods of up to two weeks. The benefits of physical activity to mental health are well established, but the Kaplans were surprised to discover that their subjects reported that the experience of being in a natural setting was even more significant in the relief of their symptoms than the activity itself.

In a 1993 study, the pair found that office workers with views of trees, bushes, or large lawns reported significantly less work-related frustration and more enthusiasm for their work than office workers whose windows looked out on man-made structures, or who had no windows.

Subsequent studies have found that subjects report longer attention spans, improved concentration, clearer thinking, reduced stress and anxiety, and many other benefits after spending time in natural settings.

The greener and more pristine the setting, the greater the relief, but the Kaplan's office study and others have shown that even window views and photographs of natural landscapes have some beneficial effect. Symptoms also improve the more time the child or adult with ADHD is able to spend in or with visual access to natural landscapes. Settings with trees and/or grass appear to have the greatest effect, perhaps due to the evolutionary origins of the human race on the African savanna, but positive results are also found with aquatic landscapes such as oceans and lakes.

Nature Therapy

Photo by Olof S
Photo by Olof S

Do It Yourself Nature Therapy

One of the benefits of nature therapy is that it doesn't require professional guidance toenjoy its benefits. Here are some tips for parents of children with ADHD, or adults who have ADHD themselves:

  • Encourage regular visits to natural settings, whether in your own backyard, in city parks and green spaces, or national parks and wildlife refuges.
  • Take up an outdoor hobby, such as gardening or hiking. Combining the simple experience of being outside with physical activity is one way to maximize the benefits of the outdoors.
  • Plant a diverse landscape incorporating trees, shrubs, and flowers around your home, or encourage your landlord to do so.
  • Grow easy-care houseplants such as spiderplant and ivy.
  • Decorate your home in relaxing earth tones such as green, blue, and brown.
  • Choose photographs and paintings for your walls that depict pristine natural landscapes.
  • Whenever possible, choose homes and offices with natural views, and easy access to natural settings.

Don't Forget the Animal Kingdom!

Green landscapes are not the only benefits the natural world can provide to children and adults with ADHD. The animal kingdom can also lend a helping hand.

Petting animals, especially calm, older animals, is known to reduce blood pressure and stress, while caring for a household pet, participating in animal-related activities such as horseback riding or 4-H, and taking part in observational activities such as bird-watching can all improve attention span and concentration, and encourage responsibility and planning skills. A number of scientific studies have supported the use of animal-assisted therapy as an alternative treatment for ADHD. One study even found beneficial effects for children who suffer from ADHD from swimming with dolphins!

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    • Enelle Lamb profile image

      Enelle Lamb 8 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      ...and this one! Thanks for the great information, I am planning on implementing some changes in my sons activities.

    • Drug Free ADD profile image

      Drug Free ADD 8 years ago

      very nicely put together Hub :) It seems logical that natural settings would have positive benefits on the mind and body. But it's also nice to see the scientific evidence to back the theories up.

    • Penny Arcos profile image

      Penny Arcos 9 years ago

      I agree with this 100%. Our creator did not intend for us to live in cubicles.

      Even 100 years ago, Maria Montessori, the founder of Montessori education, found that children in the slums of Italy became healthier when interacting with nature. Care of the environment, even just caring for a plant,  is a major part of Montessori education and it should be a major part of everyone's lives.

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