What is Ecotherapy?

Ecopsychology is the psychology of our relationship with nature. The term ecopsychology was coined by Theodore Roszak in his 1992 book, The Voice of the Earth: An Exploration of Ecopsychology:

Its goal is to bridge our culture’s long-standing, historical gulf between the psychological and the ecological, to see the needs of the planet and the person as a continuum. In search of a greater sanity, it begins where many might say sanity leaves off: at the threshold of the nonhuman world. (p. 14.)

Ecopsychology isn’t a particular type of psychology like Gestalt or psychoanalysis. Rather, it’s an approach to psychology that studies and incorporates a person’s relationship with nature in the same way we might look at their relationship to their family, partners, coworkers, hobbies, etc. For many years psychology studied the human psyche only within a human-centered sphere, and only more recently have we begun to really appreciate the importance of our connections to everything from our pets to our yards to the natural places we may have grown up with as children. We’re learning how nature makes us who we are.

Ecotherapy is ecopsychology in motion, using the healing properties of nature for therapeutic benefits. It is a dynamic approach to mental health care, drawing on both evidence from research, and the organic connections we create with the natural world around us. Ecotherapy can be as simple as exploring your past and present relationships with nature; it may be as complex as using a wilderness retreat to find a moment of peace in a chaotic life. For example, a therapist might ask a client about favorite outdoor places during the intake session. Or they might ask the client to spend an hour each week outside with no agenda other than to relax and enjoy themselves. Some clients may even wish to explore their grief over the loss of a favorite wild place that’s been paved over or turned into a housing development, or process their feelings about climate change.

When I talk about our relationship with nature, remember that nature isn’t just the deep wilderness; it is also urban parks, gardens, yards, even house plants and pets. Even if you feel like you’ve lost touch with nature, it’s never too late to reconnect, and restore your sense of self and your place in the world.  It’s my hope that the resources on this site may help you on this journey.

In recent years more research has been done in ecopsychology as well as neighboring fields like environmental psychology and conservation psychology. Over and over these studies show what we’ve known for years: that nature is good for us! To find out more, check out the rest of this site, especially the More Resources page.