Ecotherapy allows clinicians an evidence-based framework in which to offer nature-based therapies to their clients. Decades of research clearly demonstrates the positive effect nature has on mental (and physical) health and well-being, and integrating a nature-based approach into treatment allows clinicians a unique and more holistic view into their client’s internal world.
One of the core concepts in the field of ecopsychology is that humans are hard-wired to connect with the natural world; we are interconnected and interdependent on nature for survival as well as health and well-being. Further, as we become increasingly disconnected from nature, including the food we eat and how we treat our environment, it can cause physical and psychological distress. Indeed, the natural world offers not only a plethora of mental, physical, and emotional benefits, but it can provide a vibrant, alive, and sensory space to experience what is often described by clients as their “core self or authentic self”. Ecotherapists work to help clients reconnect with nature in order to find healing, restoration, and insight. In nurturing their relational connection with nature, clients often discover a desire to give back to nature, furthering their own healing as well as healing of nature.
Which clients would benefit from ecotherapy?
In general, ecotherapy can be used with most individuals or groups, including couples and families. It can be used successfully with all ages, from children to older adults. There is an abundance of research that supports ecotherapy interventions with a variety of client difficulties or diagnoses, including depression, anxiety, trauma, ADHD, grief, chronic stress, and chronic mental illness. As an emerging field, there is less research on some diagnoses, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder; however, the field is expanding and evolving rapidly, and new research is regularly coming out.
Types of Ecotherapy
Ecotherapy can be used as a stand-alone intervention or can be easily integrated into other conventional theoretical approaches. There are many different types of ecotherapy; most are offered outside in urban or wilderness areas, but some can be offered indoors. Some of the options include:
- Wilderness therapy
- Eco-art therapy (also called expressive art in nature or land art therapy)
- Adventure therapy
- Animal-assisted therapy
- Somatic ecotherapy
- Horticultural therapy
Would you like to learn more?
Links to Articles and Research:
Web page of Dr. Martin Jordan, psychologist and ecotherapist, with links to research articles: www.ecotherapy.org.uk
Web page of Patricia Hasbach, PhD, with links to research articles: www.northwestecotherapy.com
Web page of The Society of Forest Medicine, with a robust database of research articles: http://forest-medicine.com/eindex.html
Ecopsychology journal with some open access articles: http://www.liebertpub.com/overview/ecopsychology/300/
This is Your Brain On Nature, January 2016 issue of National Geographic magazine
Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind (2009) by Linda Buzzell and Craig Chalquist
Nature and Therapy: Understanding Counselling and Psychotherapy in Outdoor Spaces (2014) by Martin Jordan
Coming Back to Life: An Updated Guide to the Work that Reconnects (2014) by Joanna Macy
Ecotherapy Programs and Organizations:
EcoMinds (U.K.): http://www.mind.org.uk/
Shinrin Yoku (Japan): http://www.shinrin-yoku.org/
Forest Commission Scotland Branching Out Programme: http://scotland.forestry.gov.uk/supporting/strategy-policy-guidance/health-strategy/branching-out
Degree and Certificate Training Programs:
Naropa University (MA in Ecopsychology): http://www.naropa.edu/academics/graduate-academics/ecopsychology-ma/
Ariana Candell Clinical Ecotherapy Program (online): http://arianacandell.com/clinicalecotherapy.htm