Background: Natural scenery is known to have restorative qualities, such as recovery from stress, mood enhancement, and replenishment of attention. These restorative qualities of nature may contribute to the prevention and treatment of mental health problems and promote well-being. Previous research about the restorative effects of nature concluded that the field would benefit from studies with high methodological rigour that concern psychological mechanisms that (in part) explain the restorative benefits of nature. Besides a value for the field of restorative environments research, such studies also have value from a societal standpoint, because it could facilitate the further development of preventive initiatives and even nature therapy practice. Aim: Therefore, the aim of the present dissertation was: To further the understanding of the restorative effects of exposure to nature in order to inform both preventive and clinical interventions that consider nature as a supportive environment. Methods: Chapter 2 described two lab studies (N = 257) that investigated a clinically relevant personal characteristic that might constrain or bolster the effectiveness of the restorative benefits of exposure to nature: depressive symptoms. Chapter 3 presented three lab studies (N = 506) that examined whether nature influences cognitive coping with psychological distress. Chapter 4 (N = 127) also studied the psychological process of cognitive coping but with a different experimental manipulation (i.e. feelings of stress) to induce a capacity for restoration before environmental exposure. Chapter 5 presented a phenomenological qualitative study (N = 12) that investigated how clients experience nature during individual outpatient psychotherapy. More specifically, it was concerned with clients’ inner world experiences regarding nature during treatment. Results: Chapter 2 suggests that nature-based interventions may be especially beneficial for people suffering from depressive symptoms, because the two presented experiments show that participants with more (rather than less) depressive symptoms displayed more stress reduction after viewing nature rather than built settings. The studies presented in Chapter 3 are the first to reveal that viewing nature influences cognitive coping with psychological distress. It described a novel potential two-step pathway as an underlying mechanism of restoration. In the first step of this pathway the capacity for directed attention replenishes. Second, this renewed capacity is directed towards internal processes, creating the optimal setting for reflection. Chapter 4 shows that even though restoration occurred, viewing nature did not seem to evoke restoration by means of cognitive coping. It establishes a difference in personal circumstances, i.e. between the affective states of psychological distress and feelings of stress, with regard to whether cognitive coping is influenced by nature exposure or not. Chapter 5 reveals that nature brings clients closer to their inner worlds. It is the first to unfold in a conceptual model the way observations of the natural outside world impact clients’ inner worlds. Conclusion: The present dissertation indicates that the natural world is especially effective for people with an emotional vulnerability and that nature seems to foster reflection by facilitating cognitive coping with psychological distress. In addition to these effects, or maybe because of these effects, the natural outside world seems to bring clients closer to their inner worlds. The present dissertation is the first to really unfold how nature brings this about in a two-step pathway of restoration and reflection, and additionally with a conceptual model of nature’s lived experience. Together with the broader line of research about the value of nature for mental health, the present dissertation underlines the importance of considering nature as a supportive environment for both preventive as well as treatment interventions. More specifically, the present dissertation states that numerous evidence based treatments can be enriched by considering nature as a supportive environment for psychotherapy.
|Award date||27 Jan 2022|
|Publication status||Published - 27 Jan 2022|