Study reveals low impact ecotherapy creates positivity in cancer patients

Low impact and cost effective ecotherapy activities, such as indoor gardening, can help instill feelings of positivity and control in cancer patients, according to research by University of Wales Trinity Saint David’s (UWTSD) academics.

Ecotherapy Study Team

Ecotherapy refers to the practice of encouraging individuals to engage in nature-based activities as a therapeutic method in order to gain physical and psychological benefits. These benefits are well documented, however, active outdoor activities are not always possible for people who are undergoing treatment for cancer or who are recovering from surgery.

Funded by the cancer charity Tenovus Cancer Care, academics from UWTSD’s School of Psychology in Swansea have conducted research to explore whether the known benefits of nature-based activities can be replicated in a low-cost, low-impact way. It was supported by Swansea-based Horticulturalist Julie Bowen from Gower Tree, Shrub and Plant Centre.

During the study, seven women with a breast cancer diagnosis were encouraged to cultivate and care for their own indoor garden bowl for a period of three months. They were also asked to record their daily experience of nurturing the bowl in a diary and to capture significant moments in photographs.

The results of the study revealed several main themes that suggested the participants found the process to be therapeutic. These are:

  • Reflecting their cancer journey –The bowl appeared to evoke reflection about their cancer journey and their daily changes in their own emotions and feelings.
  • A source of positivity – Looking after the bowl helped to create positive feelings of hope, pride and responsibility.
  • Making meaning through memories – A number of participants personalised their bowls with mementos of personal significance that produced positive memories.

The findings have been published in an online paper which can be accessed via ecancer.org/

Dr Ceri Phelps, co-author of the paper and Head of Psychology at UWTSD, said: ‘The take-home message from this unique study is that firstly, psychosocial interventions do not have to be complex, labour-intensive to deliver or costly; and secondly that we need to recognise the importance of providing psychosocial support to those affected by cancer at all stages of their cancer journey – often way beyond diagnosis and initial survivorship. We would like to thank all of the women who kindly agreed to take part in this study.”

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