'Becoming human again': Exploring connections between nature and recovery from stress and post-traumatic distress

Work. 2015;50(1):161-74. doi: 10.3233/WOR-141934.


Background: Many military veterans are seeking ways beyond conventional treatments to manage their stress injuries. An increasing number is turning to nature, including hiking and fishing, farming and gardening, and building relationships with dogs or horses. Many continue to benefit from medication and therapy, but find that nature provides an additional measure of support, relief and healing in their lives.

Objective: This paper examines reciprocal interactions between humans and nature during post-conflict recovery, with a focus on the experiences of four North American veterans who regard their personal recovery from stressful and traumatic military experiences as intimately tied to their nature experiences.

Methods: Experience-centered narrative inquiry often sheds light on details and experiences concealed or overlooked by other research paradigms. In-depth interviews about post-military experiences with recovery were conducted with four veterans who suffer from stress and/or post-traumatic distress; these experiences are further illuminated by supporting interviews, and theories and praxis in ecopsychology, cognitive science, neuroscience, biophilia, and ecological intelligence.

Results: Through exploring themes of sensory experience, safety, sense of purpose, and renewed relationships, this research gives space to former soldiers' stories of experience and to their individual realizations that their embodied interconnections with nature provide alternative experiences to their military training and combat exposure.

Conclusion: The veterans' experiences with nature and recovery are pointing towards an avenue of recovery that is little acknowledged in the mainstream literature and praxis, but deserving of attention.

Keywords: Military veterans; combat exposure; ecopsychology; narrative inquiry.

MeSH terms

  • Animal Assisted Therapy / methods
  • Animals
  • Dogs
  • Horses
  • Humans
  • Nature*
  • Rehabilitation / methods*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / rehabilitation
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy*
  • Veterans / psychology*