Counselling outdoors and ecotherapy

counselling outdoors in nature totnes, paignton and newton abbot“94 per cent of participants in Mind’s study said green exercise activities had been positive for their mental health.”

Ecotherapy is a catch-all term for therapeutic activity that takes place outdoors and in nature. It includes counselling outdoors that I offer, health walks that are being provided by councils and voluntary organisations, community garden initiatives and horticultural therapy.

There has been a lot research in the last few decades showing the positive impact of outdoor spaces on mental health and wellbeing. It’s increasingly being seen a legitimate tool for improving mental health and wellbeing.

For example, Mind published its own report recently advocating the importance of inclusion of ecotherapy in mental health services and planning.

In their study, they claim that 90 per cent of people taking part in green exercise activities felt that the combination of nature and exercise was most important in determining how they feel.

They also found that 94 per cent of participants said green exercise activities had been positive for their mental health.

Source: p2

The RSPB has also commissioned research on the positive impact of nature on mental health:

In their report they suggest that an increased contact with nature can help with:

· Treatment for children with poor self-discipline, hyperactivity and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

· Coping with anxiety and stress, particularly for patients undergoing operations or cancer treatment.

· Strategies to reduce crime and aggression

· Benefiting elderly care and treatment for dementia.

· Concentration levels in children and office workers.

· Stress

· Healthy cognitive development of children.

· Improving hospital environments

· Strengthened Communities

· Increased sense of wellbeing and mental health

Reference: p6

The evidence in the RSPB report is presented around three core concepts which support the positive impact of nature on well being. These resonate with me instinctively but it’s interesting to see them supported with evidence too. I have summarised these from the paper:

Biophilia: our innate draw as human beings to other living beings and organisms. In simple terms, to be drawn to nature is in our nature.

Attention restoration theory: we all find concentrating directly on something can be very mentally tiring. And if we have distractions from other things we might find interesting (emails or texts, Facebook feeds, for example) it can require a lot of effort to tune those out. However indirect attention requires much less effort. Nature is very effective at providing respite and restoring us with little effort. This is particularly because it allows us to get away from our daily routing, it provides an innate fascination and space for exploration which meets our expectations. The report highlights that there are over 100 studies showing even looking at a natural landscape can help recharge and restore direct attention

Psycho-physiological Stress Recovery Theory: this theory shows, with empirical evidence, that blood pressure and heart rate drop quickly when subjects are exposed to nature, particularly when in a state of stress. So there is rapid impact on one’s physiological well being when in nature.

These three core principles are the basis for feeling better in nature. If these ideas resonate with you, why not try and notice the impact on your own sense of well being next time you are in a natural setting?

And if you feel that combining these benefits with the therapeutic impact of counselling is of interest, please do get in contact to find out more.


RSPB: Natural thinking: a report investigating the links between the Natural Environment, Biodiversity and Mental Health

Wilson EO (1984) Biophilia: The Human Bond with Other Species. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Kaplan R and Kaplan S (1995) The experience of nature: A psychological perspective. Ann Arbor, MI: Ulrich’s. in Kaplan S. The restorative effects of nature: Toward an integrative framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology,15,169-182.

lrich R, Simons RF, Losito E, Fiorito E, Miles MA and Zelson M (1991) Stress Recovery during Exposure to Natural and Urban Environments. J Env Psychology 11, pp201-230
Author: Matt Fox, Counsellor and Ecotherapist, Totnes, Paignton and Newton Abbot

Mind – mental health support and resources
RSPB – Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
Martin Jordan – Leading UK ecotherapy thinker, Martin Jordan’s site full of interesting articles and training courses
UK Ecopsychology group