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Ecotherapy

Explains what ecotherapy is, how to get involved in a programme, and what to do if no ecotherapy is available in your area.

What is ecotherapy?

Ecotherapy is a type of therapeutic treatment which involves doing outdoor activities in nature. There isn't one single definition of ecotherapy. But it's often used to describe a regular, structured activity that:

  • Is led by trained professionals (sometimes therapists), who are there to support you
  • Focuses on doing an activity, rather than on your health
  • Takes place in nature or on or near to water
  • Is related to exploring and appreciating the natural world
  • Involves spending time with other people, although you can always choose to interact at your own pace

You might do an ecotherapy programme on its own, or alongside other treatments. For example, talking therapies, arts and creative therapies or psychiatric medication.

As someone who's socially anxious, I've found it much easier to chat to people and make friends when you have a practical task to do together. 

Ecotherapy: an introduction

This short video introduces the main ideas behind ecotherapy. It also explains how using nature and the outdoors can improve mental wellbeing:

Different terms for ecotherapy

People sometimes use different words to describe ecotherapy. It usually depends on whether the activity has an emphasis on exercise, gardening (also known as horticulture) or therapy. And whether it takes place on land (green) or on, or near to, water (blue). Phrases you might hear include:

  • Green exercise
  • Blue exercise
  • Green care
  • Green therapy
  • Horticultural therapy

These terms are often used to describe a whole range of outdoor activities. But may also refer to a specific type of ecotherapy programme.

Being at a supported gardening project has transformed my life and saved the life of my partner who had attempted suicide four times before she regained hope.

What happens in ecotherapy?

Ecotherapy can take place in both the countryside and in towns and cities. Settings for it include parks, gardens, farms and woodlands. It involves varying amounts of physical activity, depending on the type of programme. It can include activities that focus on:

  • Working in nature, such as a conservation project, gardening or farming
  • Experiencing nature, such as enjoying the views on a walk or cycling through woodland
  • Spending time with others in nature, such as preparing and sharing meals together

Some ecotherapy sessions follow a set structure. Others can be more informal, or vary depending on the time of year and what work needs doing. People in the group may or may not have experience of mental health problems. The main focus is usually working together on the shared activity.

Connecting with nature changed my life

The cumulative effects of this time in nature began to add up. I was softer towards myself, able to make time for joy and play. 

What types of ecotherapy programme are there?

Ecotherapy programmes can involve a wide range of activities. For example:

  • Adventure therapy involves doing adventurous physical activities in a group, such as rafting, rock climbing or caving.
  • Animal-assisted interventions involve being in spaces such as farms where you come into contact with animals and spend relaxed time feeding or petting them.
  • Animal-assisted therapy involves building a therapeutic relationship with animals, such as horses or dogs.
  • Blue exercise involves activities that take place near or in water, such as open water swimming.
  • Care farming, or therapeutic farming activities, involves looking after farm animals, growing crops or helping to manage woodland. Find out more from Social Farms & Gardens.
  • ​Environmental conservation involves protecting and caring for natural spaces. The Conservation Volunteers run local one-off and ongoing projects. You can also join Green Gyms, which combine physical exercise with conservation tasks.
  • Green exercise involves doing exercise in green spaces. For example, walking, running or cycling. Find out more about wellbeing walks from Ramblers or Mind over Mountains
  • Nature-based arts and crafts, involves doing art in or with nature. This can include creating art in green space, using the environment as inspiration or using natural materials such as wood, grass or clay.
  • Social and therapeutic horticulture involves gardening, growing food, or spending time around flowers or plants. It can take place in allotments or community gardens, or inside buildings like village halls or libraries. Thrive runs programmes at three regional centres and you can search on their website for gardening projects across the UK.
  • Wilderness therapy involves spending time in the wild and doing activities together in a group. For example, making shelters and hiking. 

The act of growing and caring for something else helps me stop thinking about what is going on in my head.

How can I get involved in an ecotherapy programme?

If you'd like to find an ecotherapy programme in your local area, you could:

  • Ask your GP. They might be able to refer you to a local programme. This is sometimes called 'social prescribing' or 'green prescribing'. Some ecotherapy programmes need you to have a referral, so talking to your GP is a good place to start. See our page on talking to your GP about your mental health for tips.
  • Talk to another health or social care professional you see regularly. They may also be able to refer you to a local programme.
  • Contact your local Mind to ask if they run any ecotherapy programmes you could join. Find your nearest local Mind on our online search page.

The cost of ecotherapy programmes varies, although some are free.

What if there isn't a programme near me?

If you can't find any ecotherapy programmes in your local area, you could:

  • Talk to your local Mind to see if they'd be interested in starting one.
  • Look for nature-based groups or classes, such as walking groups or community gardens. Your local library or community noticeboard might have details. Some of the organisations listed on our nature and mental health pages run groups and classes, as well as one-off events and volunteering opportunities. 

I do ecotherapy to get sunlight onto my skin and into my mind. It shines light through the dark fog of depression.

Aside from ecotherapy, there are lots of things you can do more generally in nature or with nature to support your mental health. For tips on this see our information on nature and mental health and ideas to try in nature.

This information was published in May 2024. We will revise it in 2027.

References and bibliography available on request.

If you want to reproduce this content, see our permissions and licensing page.

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