By GoodTherapy Staff
Ecotherapy is a broad term that applies to a wide range of treatments rooted in a connection to nature. Some lay practitioners market themselves as ecotherapists and provide coaching, exercises, and nature-based wisdom. Doctors, alternative health practitioners, and even physical therapists may also recommend ecotherapy and incorporate it into their work by recommending meditation in nature, nature-based activities such as hiking, or self-help strategies that cultivate ecological mindfulness.
Ecotherapists who practice ecopsychology are mental health clinicians whose philosophies strongly endorse the role of nature, greenspaces, and conservation in healing. They are an excellent fit for people who value nature or who want to deepen their connection to the natural world.
What is an Ecotherapist?
In the context of mental health, ecotherapists are therapists who embrace principles of ecopsychology. They believe that reconnecting to nature can improve physical and mental health while encouraging people to uncover new solutions to long-standing problems.
Ecotherapists do not use nature as a substitute for traditional mental health counseling. Instead, greenspaces and time outdoors supplement standard therapies. For example, a cognitive-behavioral therapist supporting a client with depression might recommend doing certain homework exercises outside or walking through a part during therapy.
Some common ecotherapy methods include:
- Assigning homework that encourages people to spend time outside.
- Supporting clients to become more physically active, especially in nature.
- Using the outdoors to cultivate mindfulness, such as by recommending outdoor meditation or yoga.
- Relying on nature-based metaphors and parables in therapy.
- Recommending books about nature and wildlife.
- Having therapy sessions outside.
- Bringing elements of nature indoors. An ecotherapist might have an office filled with plants, practice in an office with waterfront views and large windows, or keep the windows open to let in a breeze.
- Incorporating animals into therapy. Animal-assisted therapy is a type of ecotherapy that can help with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and numerous other diagnoses.
Many ecotherapists emphasize that environmental degradation is harmful to human mental and physical health. Some even treat this destruction as a sort of collective trauma that can have invisible mental health effects. Others focus on helping clients gain access to more time in nature or better understand their own relationship to the natural world.
Benefits of Ecopsychology
Ecotherapy has its roots in the alternative health movement. For this reason, some people still dismiss it or fail to understand its benefits. Yet research consistently points to several important benefits of ecotherapy.
A 2016 study, for example, found that access to neighborhood greenspaces could reduce aggression among adolescents. A 2015 study suggests a correlation between sleep quality and access to nature.
Some other potential benefits of ecotherapy include:
- Better health. Spending time outside can improve health across several dimensions. Moreover, time spent outside may encourage more movement and exercise, improving cardiovascular health, reducing the risk of diabetes, and improving mood.
- A new setting. Some people find that they are better able to adopt new perspectives in new settings. Ecopsychology encourages people to get outside and embrace nature, potentially allowing them to consider a different viewpoint.
- Easier therapy. Some people feel anxious about going to therapy. Ecotherapists who offer treatment in nature may help ease client stress, promote trust, and ultimately expedite the process of therapy.
What Does an Ecopsychologist Study?
Ecopsychologists are psychologists with additional training or experience in ecotherapy. Like other psychologists, they must complete a doctorate in psychology or a related field, then complete state-level licensing requirements, such as gaining a certain number of clinical hours. A person cannot call themselves an ecopsychologist solely because they have studied the mental health benefits of spending time in nature.
There is no regulatory board that oversees the use of terms related to ecotherapy. This means that any psychologist can call themselves an ecopsychologist, jut as any therapist can call themselves an ecotherapist. While some schools offer certificates in ecopsychology, ecotherapy is more of a clinical orientation than a specific path of academic study. Ecopsychologists have a wide range of experiences and educational backgrounds.
Ecotherapy Training: How to Become an Ecotherapist
People who want to become ecotherapists must pursue advanced training in counseling or psychology. States generally require at least a master’s degree to practice as a therapist. In general, you’ll need to follow these steps:
- Graduate from an accredited college or university with good enough grades to get into graduate school.
- Apply to a graduate school that offers a training program in psychology or counseling. Some schools also offer ecotherapy classes or certifications, so consider researching these options. Choose an accredited school with a good reputation in the region where you hope to practice. The higher your grades are, the more job prospects you will have.
- Graduate from school and meet state licensing requirements. This may require a year or more of additional clinical experience. After you become licensed, you can choose whether to work for someone else, open your own practice, join a community mental health agency, become a consultant, or pursue another ecotherapist career.
- Continue your training after you begin practicing. Ecotherapy is a new and evolving field, with continually emerging research. Attend regular continuing education seminars to stay up to date.
Clinicians who are already practicing and wish to become ecotherapists have a number of options. One of the best is to return to school for an ecotherapy certificate. Several schools, including a few online universities, offer ecotherapy certificates that require just a few additional classes.
Another option is to self-educate or attend continuing education seminars to learn more about ecopsychology. Some topics to focus your research on include:
- Incorporating nature and greenery into mental health therapy.
- The role of exercise and activity in improving mental health.
- How environmental degradation impacts mental health.
GoodTherapy supports therapists to master their craft, embrace new methodologies, and deliver exceptional and ethical therapy. Members get listed in our popular directory, and gain access to a diverse range of continuing education seminars, including on topics related to ecopsychology. Join today!
- Burls, A. (2007). People and green spaces: promoting public health and mental well‐being through ecotherapy. Journal of Public Mental Health, 6(3), 24–39. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/openview/c71bc7176f2d4de15d447d8becfa1069/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=28745
- Chalquist, C. (2009). A look at the ecotherapy research evidence. Ecopsychology, 1(2), 64–74. Retrieved from https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/eco.2009.0003