FREE MENTAL HEALTH ASSESSMENT. start here

What is Ecotherapy: Understanding Nature Therapy

Kristin Hall

Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 9/25/2022

As types of therapy go, ecotherapy can be a very polarizing concept, even for the least therapy averse among us. 

The simple reason for all the conflict: most people don’t understand what ecotherapy actually is. Whether you’ve rolled your eyes at homeopathic treatments in the past or are just hesitant to embrace your inner flower child, you may well expect that this pro-nature therapy type might be of the same ilk. 

The truth is that ecotherapy is far from a flower child fantasy, and if you have mental health issues or a mental health condition, it may offer relief in some cases. 

Understanding how that relief may come, however, starts with understanding what ecotherapy actually claims to do for people — and whether you might be one of the people who could potentially benefit. 

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s start with the basics: a definition of ecotherapy.

What Is Ecotherapy?

Broadly speaking, ecotherapy is a form of therapy that believes a person’s mental health can be improved or maintained by regular interaction with nature in some form. 

Outdoor activities and physical activity in nature, nature sounds, green therapy — they’ve all been associated with beneficial effects for human health.

Technically, this form of ecotherapy — the one that focuses on mental health — can also be called ecopsychology, and it has some roots in alternative therapies and, specifically, the inner human need to spend time with nature for our health.

But, believe it or not, research has backed this theory for decades. 

As early as the 1970s, studies have shown the power of nature’s influence on psychological health. We’ll get to the rest in a moment, but for the time being, understand that there’s evidence supporting the scientific basis for something that sounds like a remnant of the flower power movement.

Things begin to get blurry, however, when we talk about the specific techniques and tools of ecotherapy and how they can impact mental health. Let’s look at the facts.

How Does Ecotherapy Work?

Ecotherapy really isn’t that complicated. It’s just space in or around nature — the more, the better.

Ecotherapy has been proven to provide a variety of benefits (we’ll get to them in a moment) but the most interesting thing about the research is that a wide variety of definitions of “nature” show benefits.

Most people might assume you have to be alone in the middle of a dense forest to get the benefits from ecotherapy, and while you will see greater benefits from greater exposure to nature, the benefits actually kick in really early.

Studies have shown that just a few hours in nature can help with mental health and physical conditions, which means even something as simple as eating lunch in some green space each day might be all you need for a boost. But even if you can’t go outside, you can get benefits from just being near-ish to nature.

Some research indicates that people in hospitals with a tree outside their rooms saw noticeably better post-surgery performance, and a few indoor plants in a hospital room can boost recovery. 

Even outside the hospital room, research has shown that even a few houseplants and flowers in your house can make a difference in your mental health.

And the benefits are surprisingly diverse.

online mental health assessment

your mental health journey starts here

What Can Ecotherapy Treat?

Ecotherapy or nature therapy can provide tons of benefits for your mental health and physical health, and even boost things like your creativity.

Recovering from Injury or Illness

Research shows that ecotherapy can help with things like recovering from surgery. One study, for instance, showed gallbladder patients whose hospital windows looked out at nature recovered more quickly than those who didn’t. 

One of the reasons you should always bring someone flowers if they’re in the hospital may be because it actually helps. 

Two studies found that people who received flowering plants needed fewer medications after surgery. So, if someone you love is laid up, bring ‘em some flowers — it’s more than just good manners.

Pain Relief

One of the interesting things about the relief flowers bring to hospital patients is that it may also come in the form of pain relief. 

Several studies have noted a reduction in perceptions of pain for people with more exposure to nature, which means you should always green the space up if you’re achy.

Stress Reduction

Plants can do some serious stress relief for people who need to get away. 

Activities performed in nature like rafting or fishing have been associated with therapeutic benefits for people with post-traumatic stress disorder, and even a little green space time helped veterans in one study

ADHD

A lot of research points to a correlation between ADHD rates and proximity to outdoor spaces for children in both rural and urban areas. 

While medication helps, as you might expect, kids with nature tend to fare better.

What this means for your kids (or for you, for that matter) is that making time specifically for nature therapy might help with ADHD symptoms over time.

Cognition, Creativity, Confidence

Better cognition rates have been shown in people with exposure to nature, especially in the form of a “restorative experience.” 

That gives a lot of credence to the idea of “communing with nature” in our opinion. 

Should I Try Ecotherapy?

Ecotherapy may pose benefits to your health regardless of whether you have a mental health condition, medical condition or are in fine health — it appears from research that there are benefits for everyone.

Even adding some more houseplants to your living space can have benefits on your emotional health and your productivity.

Honestly, there’s cost-effectiveness to consider, too. Accessing nature is usually free or extremely inexpensive, while therapy can be expensive

Besides, it’s always a good idea to get outdoors as often as you can, get green exercise and have exposure to sunlight. An hour at the park might very well be enough to improve your health if you’re not doing anything right now.

That said, horticultural therapy, healing with nature — it might not be a prescription for your individual needs, but the only way to find out is by speaking to a healthcare professional.

There are plenty of reasons to make your first move speaking with a professional. They can advise you from day one on your health journey, answer questions you may have and generally serve as a great asset when you’re trying to improve your health. 

If your health conditions were listed above, ask a healthcare provider whether ecotherapy may be for you.

psych meds online

psychiatrist-backed care, all from your couch

Ecotherapy: The Big Picture

Whether your solution to your mental health issues is to be found outdoors or indoors, the conversation has to start in the same place: with a mental health professional.

Finding the right therapist or mental healthcare provider is the key to developing a tailored, custom treatment for your needs. That may include ecotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, medication or other treatment options. 

If you’re ready to get started, consider starting with us. Hers’ online therapy resources can connect you with a healthcare provider quickly and from the comfort of your own home. 

With the right WiFi, you could connect outside, as well. 

Whether you go with us or another healthcare option, get started today. Help is out there.

4 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. Summers JK, Vivian DN. Ecotherapy - A Forgotten Ecosystem Service: A Review. Front Psychol. 2018 Aug 3;9:1389. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01389. PMID: 30123175; PMCID: PMC6085576. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6085576/.
  2. Ulrich R. S. (1984). View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science (New York, N.Y.), 224(4647), 420–421. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6143402/.
  3. Dustin D., Bricker N., Arave J., Wall W., Wendt G. (2011). The promise of river running as a therapeutic medium for veterans coping with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Ther. Recreat. J. 45 326–340. https://bctra.org/wp-content/uploads/tr_journals/2439-9558-1-PB.pdf.
  4. Park S-H., R. H. Mattson R. H. (2008). Effects of flowering and foliage plants in hospital rooms on patients recovering from abdominal surgery. HortTechnology 18 563–568. https://journals.ashs.org/horttech/view/journals/horttech/18/4/article-p563.xml?utm_source=FB.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Care for your mind,
care for your self

Start your mental wellness journey today.