Nature can play key role in recovery


If you’re having a bad day, taking some time to retreat to nature as a break from the hustle and bustle can be rejuvenating and uplifting. For many, a walk on the beach, a bike ride through the forest or even a few moments tending to a personal garden can help soothe a stressed-out soul. Recovering addicts can find similar solace in nature, and its role in the path toward wellness should not be overlooked. “Nature helps clients look at life differently and understand how important it is – not just in recovery, but in life, as well,” says Christine Nicholson, supervisor of experiential therapies at the Rosecrance Adolescent Treatment Center in Rockford. Nicholson says those in treatment are able to relate to the impact of nature on general well-being. They soon realize that they have an opportunity to discover an even greater capacity for beauty, love, integrity, creativity, renewal, health and wholeness. And with nature’s help, selflessness can also be strengthened For clients at Rosecrance’s adolescent campus in Rockford, a six-acre garden provides the setting for patients who are looking for new ways to approach themselves and the world around them. Designed by Hoichi Kurisu, a renowned Japanese landscape architect, the Healing Garden offers a variety of plants and structures as the means for a pathway to self-discovery and inner peace. The Healing Garden naturally but subtly stimulates the senses. The curved paths, for example, force the viewer to look in many directions. He or she is taken through a space wondering what will come next but is never fearful of what’s ahead. Instead, the client walks with a sense of security. Since teens tend to be insecure and untrusting, the Kurisu-designed garden’s curved paths force them to slow down physically and mentally.


“Kurisu believes that the garden gives clients the calmness to listen to their desires – the wish for positive outcomes and the desire to be healthy again,” Nicholson says. “The garden can be used for stimulating curiosity and learning to appreciate the value of innocence –a start of relative purity and simple trust – at a time when life was simple and uncomplicated.”

For many clients, the garden represents a non-judgmental audience. It’s a welcoming setting, one filled with safe passages and simple solutions. “The garden does not judge them,” says Nicholson. “Innocence is a natural state of joy, which participants can rediscover. The continual change and renewal in the garden is a perfect stimulus for curiosity and the sense that everything, including the viewer, is becoming new continuously.”

While the pacing for recovery may differ based on the individual, the garden always offers an opportunity to lower the intensity internally and externally. “The garden is a place to slow down, calm down and take time to learn to think before making choices. By slowing the pace at which life is being lived, a person is able to appreciate the need to adjust and adapt, which leads to empowerment,” Nicholson says. “This can translate into everyday activities and being able to interact clearly and positively with peers and authority figures. It builds confidence in oneself. Even mistakes can be positive experiences that lead to a broader understanding of oneself and his or her environment.”

And a person’s environment can be as complex and purposeful as the environment of the garden itself. “Everything in the garden has a purpose,” says Nicholson, explaining how leaves are naturally shaped to ensure that rain glides along the contours so that the water falls near the plants roots, where it is needed. “The strength and flexibility of the leaf allow the water to run off onto the ground to nurture the plant. We talk about the ability of humans to adapt, as nature does, for greater empowerment.”

Everything in its place

Each time a group from Rosecrance’s adolescent facility visits the Healing Garden, individuals are asked to focus on one particular sense. Beginning with breathing exercises, individuals slowly relax and learn to listen to the sounds around them. Nicholson says clients eventually notice things like the changing sound of the waterfall as they walk through the garden or the activity level of the resident bees. As clients become more aware of the environment around them, and the various moving parts within it, Nicholson says they can then begin to appreciate their own role in a complicated world. “We talk about how everything has a purpose. We call it order, discipline and harmony within nature,” says Nicholson. “To strive for that requires constant practice of living in the moment.”

Lessons learned from the garden setting are then applied to real-life scenarios. For example, if clients are asked to focus on the sense of touch, they may be asked to reflect on the following questions: “If you are the earth, how do people walk upon you? Do they take care of you and nourish you, or do they destroy you? Do these people protect, recycle or destroy naturally or on purpose.” Nicholson says these questions may represent the first time a client has been asked to step outside of himself or herself and articulate the roles that people play in their lives. According to Nicholson, answers to this particular question can vary from “My mother is a tornado; she doesn’t mean to be, but she is a natural disaster,” to “My girlfriend is like a strong tree. She takes care of me by protecting me.” In both cases, they are making the connection between nature and their own lives.