Photo of a man sitting next to tree trunk

A tree flourishes because of its leaves and branches; without them, life stops. In our Eco-Healing Tree model, the leaves and branches allow people to flourish and reach fulfillment. This can lead to agape—a fulfilling, mutual, and/or transcendent love.

Three Levels

For centuries, people have recognized nature’s role in human flourishing, but until the last century this focused mostly on personal healing. With the increase of industrialization and the evolution of a global community starting in the 20th century, people began to seek a relationship with nature that begins on a personal (micro) level, but also extends to societal and planetary health and wellbeing (macro level).

For example, individuals turn to nature for restorative exercise, society adds healing gardens to hospital settings, and global movements address the interaction of planetary health with human health. This is shown in the three levels in the leaves and branches of the Eco-Healing Tree.

Three Aspects at Each Level

There are also physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual components within each level.

As in a real tree, where nature is integrated and interdependent, so the relationships and definitions between the branch levels and physical, mental, and spiritual aspects are likewise interconnected.

Photo of a backlit tree.

Nature’s healing powers. Selina was diagnosed with late-stage cancer and told she had three months to live. With a hypnotherapist, she began imagining parks from her childhood, lingering over the sensory experience of the trees linking above the brook and the sunlight filtering through the leaves.

Selina began to visit real parks to recapture this feeling of peace and solitude. Her pain diminished drastically. She joined a hiking group, went on a cruise with a friend, and traveled the world. Selina lived for two and a half years after the initial diagnosis, and those years were spent relatively pain and stress-free, thanks to her renewed partnership with nature.

(Adapted from Burns, Nature-Guided Therapy: Brief Integrative Strategies for Health and Well-being)

Photo of planting a garden with a trowel.

Dig a Hole

The next time you are facing mental or emotional unrest, try a nature healing technique taught by Native Americans.

Find a place in nature where you can dig a small hole in the soil. Speak your feelings into the hole, giving your emotions to the Earth for healing. When you are finished, fill the hole and give gratitude for your experience. Later, whenever you find yourself thinking about the problem, remember the Earth is in charge of it now and let it go.

Interconnectedness with Nature. In 2001, psychological researcher and California State Professor of Psychology P. Wesley Schultz addressed the three levels of the human/nature connections in a series of four studies. Concerned that environmental research often relied on simple measures (people’s environmental concern from low interest to high interest), his studies did a three-level assessment of environmental concern and values—egotistical (impact on self), altruistic (includes impact on other humans), and biospheric (impact on animals, plants, marine life, and birds). Subjects were college students, the general public, and Spanish-speaking college students from 10 countries. 

His results indicated distinctions influenced by people’s interconnectedness with nature. For example, people whose values were more egotistical were less concerned about nature’s wellbeing, especially at the societal and global levels. However, people who scored high on self-transcendence were far more engaged at all three levels (Schultz, 2001).

Burls, A. (2007). People and green spaces: promoting public health and mental well-being through ecotherapy. Journal of Public Mental Health; 6, 24.

Burns, G.W. (1998). Nature-Guided Therapy: Brief Integrative Strategies for Health and Well-being. New York: Brunner/Mazel.

Schultz, P.W. (2001). The structure of environmental concern: concern for self, other people, and the biosphere. Journal of Environmental Psychology; 21, 327-339.