The Future of Ecotherapy

My ecotherapy work is featured in the Winter issue of JUNO magazine and the interviewer raises an interesting question: Why isn’t therapy in nature more widespread?

Ecotherapy sounds very novel, but it isn’t really. Doing walk and talk therapy isn’t new: Freud walked though the streets of Leyden with Mahler during a very effective session of psychoanalysis. Doing therapeutic work in nature isn’t a recent invention either. The Renaissance medical pioneer Paracelsus believed that “The art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician”, while Florence Nightingale noted the therapeutic effects of nature in her Notes on Nursing (1863).

Although recognition of the healing effects of nature isn’t especially new, researching into its efficacy is. Evidenced based practice is increasingly in demand, which is partly why Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is commonly recommended by the National Health Service (NHS). On that basis, ecotherapy should be more widespread, as there’s extensive evidence showing that it works. I’ve written a summary of the evidence for ecotherapy and the conclusion is clear; therapy in nature is an effective treatment for a wide range of mental health problems.

Ecotherapist and client walking in nature

Walking the path to healing

Given that ecotherapy isn’t especially novel and is backed by robust evidence of its effectiveness, why isn’t it available on the NHS? I think the answer is primarily about modern culture. CBT fits into the culture of the NHS perfectly because it’s something you can quite literally do ‘by the book’; just follow the CBT manual and tick the boxes as you go. Ecotherapy doesn’t work like that; it’s a dynamic interaction that involves the client, the therapist and an unpredictable natural space.

However, some therapists – including me – are developing ways to deliver ecotherapy in a way that the NHS might find more acceptable. The healing power of nature can effectively be harnessed in a group therapy session and that has the added advantage of social interaction. Working with a group of people rather then one-to-one also cuts the cost, which means that more people can be helped sooner. If we continue to apply the research and develop proven, cost effective approaches, ecotherapy could be an approach whose time has finally come.

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