What Is EcoTherapy? Explore the History and Benefits of the Practice

According to Howard Clinebell, who wrote a 1996 book on the topic, “ecotherapy” refers to healing and growth nurtured by healthy interaction with the earth. He also called it “green therapy” and “earth-centered therapy.” Although Clinebell preferred the term “ecotherapy,” which includes work with the body, to “ecopsychology,” the study of our psychological relations with the rest of nature, it is clear that ecopsychology provides a solid theoretical, cultural, and critical foundation for ecotherapeutic practice. For this reason we regard ecotherapy as applied ecopsychology.

As an umbrella term for nature-based methods of physical and psychological healing, ecotherapy points to the need to reinvent psychotherapy and psychiatry as if nature and the human-nature relationship matters. It takes into account the latest scientific understandings of our universe and the deepest indigenous wisdom. This perspective reveals the critical fact that people are intimately connected with, embedded in, and inseparable from the rest of nature. Grasping this fact deeply shifts our understanding of how to heal the human psyche and the currently dysfunctional and even lethal human-nature relationship. It becomes clear that what happens to nature for good or ill impacts people and vice versa, leading to the development of new methods of individual and community psychotherapeutic diagnosis and treatment.

Ecotherapeutic work as Clinebell conceived it takes guidance from an Ecological Circle of three mutually interacting operations or dynamics:

Inreach: receiving and being nurtured by the healing presence of nature, place, Earth.
Upreach: the actual experience of this more-than-human vitality as we relocate our place within the natural world.

Outreach: activities with other people that care for the planet.

Closing the circle keeps ecotherapy from narrowly focused self-absorption, further nature exploitation for human purposes, feel-good maneuvers, or thinking good thoughts as planetary panaceas. Ecotherapy as applied ecopsychology employs many methods in disciplined and systematic attempts to reconnect the psyche and the body with the terrestrial sources of all healing.

Some examples of recent ecotherapy research findings:
–“Equine Therapy Helps Withdrawn Vets Reconnect”
– “71% Report Depression Decrease After Green Walk”
– “Immersion in Nature Makes Us Nicer”
– “How the City Hurts Your Brain…and What You Can Do About It”
– “Connection to Nature Vital to Our Mental and Physical Health, Scientists Say”
– “Drug Addiction: Environmental Conditions Play Major Role In Effective Treatment And Preventing Relapses, Animal Study Shows”

Ecotherapy is different from psychotherapy in its focus on transforming our relationship to the natural world and in its reliance on non-risky and non-intrusive interventions. A certificate in ecotherapy is not a license to do psychotherapy. Nevertheless, ecotherapy techniques are being taught to practicing psychotherapists, whose concentration on mending relationships and inner conflicts benefits from placement in the wider ecological context in which all human activity unfolds.

Overlapping Core Commitments of Ecotherapy
without which ecotherapy would not be ecotherapy:
– Because human beings are an integral part of the natural world, what nourishes or diminishes that world nourishes or diminishes us.

– Ecotherapy recognizes and seeks to address how the pain of the ecological world shows up as pain within and between human beings.

– All our work unfolds within an Ecological Circle (see the work of founding father Howard Clinebell) that ethically links receiving and experiencing healing from nature, place, and Earth with giving something substantial back to the earthly sources of healing.

– The Circle underlines the personal and collective need to transition from spectators, exploiters, and destroyers of the natural world into appreciators, lovers, advocates, and witnesses building a consciously regenerative relationship with that world.

– Relationships of healing with nature, place, creatures, and Earth require us to acknowledge our participation in industrial, governmental, or organizational actions that harm the environment and to seek alternative actions whenever possible.

– This relationship holds diversity–cultural, ecological, epistemological, spiritual–to be a precious source of enrichment, value, and, ultimately, survival. The more diverse the ecosystem, the greater its resiliency, creativity, and resourcefulness.

– Although ecotherapy interventions tend to be much less invasive than drugs or psychotherapy, ecotherapists always put the well-being of clients first and carefully monitor potential safety and health concerns.

– Ecotherapists believe that nonhuman forms of life have a right to exist for their own needs and purposes, and that this right includes leaving plant and animal ecocommunities intact and protecting the needs, health, and sense of agency of our animal companions in our work.

– Ecotherapists regard our work as part of an ongoing collective effort to build just and sustainable communities in which all forms of life can delight and mature.