Nature therapy

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Nature therapy, sometimes referred to as ecotherapy, describes a broad group of techniques or treatments with the intention of improving an individual's mental or physical health, specifically with an individual's presence within nature or outdoor surroundings. It is based on the principles of ecopsychology, which look at how we feel interconnected with the earth.[1] Ecotherapy is a form of psychotherapy rooted in the idea of biophilia: people's bond between themselves and other ecosystems. Howard Clinebell, an author on ecotherapy, explains how the ecotherapeutic work has three mutually interacting operations of an ecological circle:

"In reach, which is receiving and being in the presence of nature, place upreach, which is the actual experience as we realize our place in the natural world, and outreach, which is interacting with other people that care about the environment." [2]

One example of a nature therapy is forest bathing or shinrin-yoku, a practice that combines a range of exercises and tasks in an outdoor environment. Garden therapy, horticultural therapy, Kneipp therapy or even ocean therapy may also be viewed as forms of nature therapy. Nature therapy may also include grounding[3] which can be practised by removing any electrical insulation between a person and a conductive ground such as soil, grass, and wet sand (if not wet with de-ionized water.)


In a crowded urban capital of Persia 2500 years ago, Cyrus the Great recognized the need to increase human health and create a feeling of "calm". In response, he planted a garden in the middle of the city.[4] In the 16th century, a German-Swiss Paracelsus physician wrote: “The art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician.”[5]

Researching scientists during the 1950s decided to look into the reasoning behind why so many people chose to spend time in nature, with special reference to famous locations like national parks.[6]

Shinrin-yoku (森林浴), which literally means forest bathing, originated in Japan in the early 1980s and may be regarded as a form of nature therapy.[4]

Investigations on the physiological effects that result from being in a forest began in Japan in 1990 and continue today.[7]

Howard Clinebell coined the term "ecotherapy" in 1996.[8]

In April 2018, Qing Li, a doctor at Nippon Medical School in Japan, published a book on the topic after his 25 years of research on the matter. The book was published in English and plans include translation of the book into multiple languages.[9][better source needed]

There has been an increasing interest in the study of nature therapy and its forms over the past few decades, as there is an important exploration of how a person's overall quality of life can be improved through their interaction with nature and a decrease in factors like stress or depression.[10]

The process of nature therapy[edit]

  1. Stressed state: A person is in a state of physical or emotional stress.
  2. Restorative effects of nature: The person spends time in nature, resulting in improvements in physiological relaxation and the immune function recovery response.
  3. Evidence-based medicine (EBM): Nature directly increases the parasympathetic nervous system and heightens awareness, causing relaxation.[11]

Health effects (physical and psychological)[edit]

Nature therapy, and shinrin-yoku specifically, has been linked to a number of physiological benefits, as well as neuropsychological benefits, as indicated by neuroimaging and validated psychological tests such as the Profile of Mood States (POMS).[12] Spending time in nature can improve immune, cardiovascular, and respiratory functioning. Nature therapy can provide emotional healing, decrease blood pressure, improve a person's general sleep-wake cycle, improve relationship skills, reduces stress,[4] and reduce aggression.[13] Nature therapy can help with general medical recovery, pain reduction, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, dementia, obesity, and other disorders like vitamin D deficiencies.[14] A 2007 study from the University of Essex in the U.K., for example, found that a walk in the country reduces depression in 71% of participants. The researchers found that as little as five minutes in a natural setting, whether walking in a park or gardening in the backyard, improves mood, self-esteem, and motivation.[15]

However, a 2012 systematic review study showed inconclusive results related to methodological issues across the literature.[16] Subsequently, a 2017 systematic review of the benefits of spending time in forests demonstrated positive health effects, but not enough to generate clinical practice guidelines or demonstrate causality.[17] Additionally, there are concerns from researchers expressing that time spent in nature as a form of regenerative therapy is highly personal and entirely unpredictable; in fact, the nature can be harmed in the process of human interaction.[6]

One of the earliest and most studied form of nature therapy is forest therapy. [18] A 2020 systematic review of recent forest therapy studies concluded that "forest therapy plays an important role in preventive medicine and stress management for all age groups", however the researchers acknowledged that there was a need for more research on its sustained effects. [19] Public interest in forest therapy is growing, and it has even received state-backing in Japan and South Korea. [19]

Horticulture therapy, a notable form of nature therapy, has been linked to physiological changes within patients participating in an inpatient cardiopulmonary rehabilitation program; the patients experienced an overall diminishing effect of disturbance to their mood and a noticeable decrease in their measured heart rates, respectively.[10] Horticulture therapy has also been linked to supporting a person's general well-being by boosting their positive mood and providing a viable escape from stressors occurring in daily life, as can be seen in a studied population that possessed professional diagnoses in both physical and psychological capacities.[10] Although there is a heavy amount of anecdotal evidence supporting the psycho-social benefits of nature therapy, cancer patients provided positive feedback after participating in the Healing Gardens Program at Cancer Lifeline in Seattle; the program has been recommended for therapeutic purposes for adult cancer patients.[10] Social horticulture helps with depression and other mental health problems of people from risk groups: people with PTSD, victims of abuse, lonely elderly people, drug or alcohol addicts, blind people and other people with special needs.[20]

The effects of nature therapy can be connected to two theories, known as the Stress Reduction Theory (SRT) and the Attention Restoration Theory (ART).[21]

Apart from physical and psychological well-being nature therapy also can help to improve social well-being (guided ecotherapy practices can improve self-management, self-esteem, social relations and skills, socio-political awareness and even employability).[22]

Future directions[edit]

While there exists a limited amount of available studies to reference for the definitive conclusion regarding the success of nature therapy as a common practice,[23] forms of nature therapy have been deemed sufficient in serving as complementary therapy for adult medical usage.[10] There are signs of this field being a notable practice among children or within pediatric studies in the future.[10]

Today there are a lot of cases over the world of medical prescription of nature. In California, a pilot program for families in parks was introduced. In Finland, government-funded researchers recommend a minimum nature dose of five hours a month in order to reduce the level of depression, alcoholism, and suicide. In South Korea, there is a free program of nature therapy sponsored by the local government for firefighters suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.[5]

New studies show that even 120 minutes in nature weekly is enough for better health conditions and general well-being.[24]


  1. ^ Roberts, Dr Hannah (2017-01-03). "What is Nature Therapy?". Thrive. Retrieved 2020-06-04.
  2. ^ "Ecotherapy Benefits All Humans". The Apollos. 2016-10-21. Retrieved 2020-06-04.
  3. ^ Chevalier, Gaétan (12 January 2012). "Earthing: Health Implications of Reconnecting the Human Body to the Earth's Surface Electrons". J Environ Public Health. 2012 (291541): 291541. doi:10.1155/2012/291541. PMC 3265077. PMID 22291721.
  4. ^ a b c Hansen MM, Jones R, Tocchini K (July 2017). "Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing) and Nature Therapy: A State-of-the-Art Review". International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 14 (8): 851. doi:10.3390/ijerph14080851. PMC 5580555. PMID 28788101.
  5. ^ a b "Call to the Wild: This Is Your Brain on Nature". National Geographic Magazine. 8 December 2015.
  6. ^ a b MacKinnon, J. B. (2016-01-21). "The Problem with Nature Therapy". Nautilus. Retrieved 2019-04-05.
  7. ^ Song, Chorong (August 2016). "Physiological Effects of Nature Therapy: A Review of the Research in Japan". International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 13 (8): 781. doi:10.3390/ijerph13080781. PMC 4997467. PMID 27527193.
  8. ^ Sorgen, Carol. "Nature Therapy (Ecotherapy) Medical Benefits". WebMD. Retrieved 2019-02-28.
  9. ^ O'Donoghue, J. J. (2 May 2018). "Stressed out? Bathing in the woods is just what the doctor ordered". The Japan Times.
  10. ^ a b c d e f Cutillo, A.; Rathore, N.; Reynolds, N.; Hilliard, L.; Haines, H.; Whelan, K.; Madan-Swain, A. (2015). "A Literature Review of Nature-Based Therapy and its Application in Cancer Care". Journal of Therapeutic Horticulture. 25 (1): 3–15. JSTOR 24865255.
  11. ^ Song, Chorong (August 2016). "Physiological Effects of Nature Therapy: A Review of the Research in Japan". International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 13 (8): 781. doi:10.3390/ijerph13080781. PMC 4997467. PMID 27527193 – via EBSCO.
  12. ^ Copeland CS. The Forest As Physician: Shinrin Yoku. Healthcare Journal of Baton Rouge. Nov-Dec 2017
  13. ^ Phillips, Lindsey (May 2018). "Using Nature as a Therapeutic Partner". Counseling Today. 60 (11): 26–33.
  14. ^ Summers, James K.; Vivian, Deborah N. (3 August 2018). "Ecotherapy – A Forgotten Ecosystem Service: A Review". Frontiers in Psychology. 9: 1389. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01389. PMC 6085576. PMID 30123175.
  15. ^ Sorgen, Carol. "Nature Therapy (Ecotherapy) Medical Benefits". WebMD. Retrieved 2020-06-04.
  16. ^ Kamioka, Hiroharu; Tsutani, Kiichiro; Mutoh, Yoshiteru; Honda, Takuya; Shiozawa, Nobuyoshi; Okada, Shinpei; Park, Sang-Jun; Kitayuguchi, Jun; Kamada, Masamitsu; Okuizumi, Hiroyasu; Handa, Shuichi (26 July 2012). "A systematic review of randomized controlled trials on curative and health enhancement effects of forest therapy". Psychology Research and Behavior Management. 5: 85–95. doi:10.2147/PRBM.S32402. PMC 3414249. PMID 22888281.
  17. ^ Oh, Byeongsang; Lee, Kyung Ju; Zaslawski, Chris; Yeung, Albert; Rosenthal, David; Larkey, Linda; Back, Michael (18 October 2017). "Health and well-being benefits of spending time in forests: systematic review". Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine. 22 (1): 71. doi:10.1186/s12199-017-0677-9. PMC 5664422. PMID 29165173.
  18. ^ Onken, Lisa Simon (1998). "Behavioral therapy development and psychological science: If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it...". Behavior Therapy. 29 (4): 539–543. doi:10.1016/S0005-7894(98)80049-X.
  19. ^ a b Rajoo, Keeren Sundara (June 2020). "The physiological and psychosocial effects of forest therapy: A systematic review". Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. 1 (2): 64–74. doi:10.1016/j.ufug.2020.126744.
  20. ^ Chalquist, Craig (June 2009). "A Look at the Ecotherapy Research Evidence". Ecopsychology. 1 (2): 64–74. doi:10.1089/eco.2009.0003.
  21. ^ Bratman, Gregory N.; Hamilton, J. Paul; Daily, Gretchen C. (February 2012). "The impacts of nature experience on human cognitive function and mental health". Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1249 (1): 118–136. Bibcode:2012NYASA1249..118B. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.2011.06400.x. PMID 22320203.
  22. ^ Pedretti-Burls, Ambra (2007). "Ecotherapy: a therapeutic and educative model" (PDF). Journal of Mediterranean Ecology. 8: 19–25.
  23. ^ White, Mathew P.; Alcock, Ian; Grellier, James; Wheeler, Benedict W.; Hartig, Terry; Warber, Sara L.; Bone, Angie; Depledge, Michael H.; Fleming, Lora E. (13 June 2019). "Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing". Scientific Reports. 9 (1): 7730. Bibcode:2019NatSR...9.7730W. doi:10.1038/s41598-019-44097-3. PMC 6565732. PMID 31197192.
  24. ^ White, Mathew P.; Alcock, Ian; Grellier, James; Wheeler, Benedict W.; Hartig, Terry; Warber, Sara L.; Bone, Angie; Depledge, Michael H.; Fleming, Lora E. (13 June 2019). "Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing". Scientific Reports. 9 (1): 7730. Bibcode:2019NatSR...9.7730W. doi:10.1038/s41598-019-44097-3. PMID 31197192.