What is outdoor therapy?
Ecotherapy, ecopsychology, nature-based therapy, green care* are just some of the terms used to describe a range of practices to help us connect with the natural world and the environment in which we live.
Getting outside and going for a walk has long been championed by people for its therapeutic benefits and mood enhancer. Some studies have shown that regular exercise can be as effective to help treat depression as anti-depressants or psychotherapy. Certainly, some organisations have recognised the benefits of being outside. Since 2009, ‘Ecominds’ projects run by national charity, Mind, have been helping people with mental health problems get outdoors and become more active.
It has been traditional in psychotherapy and counselling practice, whatever the modality e.g. CBT, psychodynamic, to see the room as the only space in which therapy should be conducted. Moving beyond the room to the outside transgresses traditional boundaries of therapeutic practice yet a number of therapists across the UK are now safely and ethically seeing private clients in outdoor natural settings.
Working therapeutically outdoors could be particularly beneficial for clients who find the confines of four walls too restrictive, or it could be liberating for those who struggle with the intensity of a one-to-one counselling relationship. Some younger people might also find working outside more productive, particularly if it’s linked to art therapy processes.
Clients who are used to counselling in a warm, dry therapeutic space, free from interruptions, may find it challenging to move outside but it could prove beneficial.
Therapy could take the form of mindfulness exercises to get grounded, to walking and talking. Sessions and routes may vary from week to week, or there may be a combination of working inside and out. Outdoor therapy is not for everyone but for some, ‘solvitur ambulando; it is solved by walking’.
*Green care is an inclusive term for complex interventions like care farming, animal-assisted therapy, wilderness therapy, therapeutic horticulture and others.