Ecotherapy In The Great Outdoors

Ecotherapy includes a wide range of outdoor treatment programs that promote physical, mental, social, and spiritual health. The treatment must have some therapeutic goal in mind. This is  more than “just a nice walk in the park”. Healthcare providers throughout time and around the world have known that time in Nature has therapeutic benefits. Now, American physicians are increasingly adding ecotherapy to their orders.

[Dr.] Zarr says it’s important to give concrete advice instead of repeating the vague admonitions (Exercise more! Get outside!) that people are used to hearing. “If you came in to me with bacterial pneumonia,” he told me, “I wouldn’t say, ‘You just go to any pharmacy, pick up any antibiotic you’d like, take it for as many days as you’d like, with or without food, and I’ll see you in a month, buddy.’ ” He doesn’t necessarily tell patients what to do at the park, however—just to go.

The Atlantic, The Nature Cure: Why some doctors are writing prescriptions for time outdoors

Ecotherapy Cost And Access

An obvious benefit of ecotherapy is its cost and access. Nature is all around us, whether a city park or a mountain lake. Financial costs are nothing to negligible. The problem for many Americans is the lifestyle impact. This could be an ideal area for a real impact by wellness programs as well as healthcare organizations.

Imagine a workplace program that was more than “take your vitals and enter them in the app”. What if sitting mindfully in the present for 20 minutes under the shade of an oak tree without checking your phone for messages was the therapy? Maybe journaling for 30 minutes a flowing creek weekly for several months? Or running your hands through dirt for an hour gardening once per week? These are all low-cost treatments that can help reduce stress and promote overall wellbeing.

Exposure To Nature

Obviously, ecotherapy offers exposure to nature. But what does health benefits does Nature offer? The list of therapeutic benefits from time in the Great Outdoors are too numerous to list but here are several that we should all know.

Forest Bathing

The Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing” has over 60 designated areas in Japan that are used by over 5 million people annually. The practice puts people into a natural surrounding for a few hours. The benefits range from lowering blood pressure to improving sleep. 

Medicinal Dirt

Working in the soil while gardening has benefits that many people simply do not know. A harmless bacteria, Mycobacterium vaccae, has been linked better overall wellbeing. Approaches to introduce the bacteria range from absorption through the skin while holding soil to injection of the bacteria. 

Animal-assisted Therapy

Animals still enjoy an easy connection with Nature. Animal-assisted ecotherapy allows us to join that connection. Whether walking in the woods with a dog or riding a horse to a beautiful vista, we get more with the animal than without. 

Getting Out Means Seeing People

Loneliness is an epidemic throughout wealthy nations.  It has also been identified as a factor in poor health. The UK has even established a Minister for Loneliness. Ecotherapy can be the opportunity to see other people, maybe even interact! That weekly gardening therapy might be part of a community garden. The journaling could finish with a weekly coffee klatch. The point is that ecotherapies offer an extra dimension to alleviate loneliness.


It is hard to enjoy ecotherapy without an ecosystem. As people continue to get back to Nature, that connection can also inspire them to preserve our earth. The Journal of Sustainability Education highlights a specific mental health ecotherapy, nature-based therapeutic service (NBTS). This approach melds time outdoors with a service component. Participants connect with their natural surroundings and work to serve and improve those surroundings. In addition to benefits from ecotherapy these individuals also enjoy a sense of purpose and fulfillment from their service.

Spiritual Connection

Regardless of religious affiliation, people find a sense of spirituality when they sit in wonderment outside their four walls. The never-ending expanse of a star-filled night or the ceaseless tides at the ocean’s shore or a breeze wafting through a grove of trees. Experiences we get through ecotherapy can also open our minds and spirits to more. We just have to be there.

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