Some definitions

By Anna Adhémar



is a term which is starting to gain wide currency (be accepted) in the UK. It is used by various researchers and clinicians to describe the use of a various nature-based stratgies/modalities within mental healthcare (including horticultural therapy, animal assisted therapy, adventure therapy and therapeutic conservation projects etc), from both a micro (health of the individual) and macro level (health of the community and ecosystems) perspective (Burls 2007). I have translated ecotherapy to the Danish naturterapi, by which I mean nature as psychological intervention (although I am fully aware if the fact that naturterapi might be misunderstood as an alternative therapy such as aromatherapy or suchlike). However, I felt that økoterapi as a translation sounded too strange. Maybe I should have translated it as natur-assisteret terapi?

Reference: Burls, A. (2007). People and green spaces: promoting public health and mental well-being through ecotherapy. Journal of Public Mental Health, 6 (3), 24-39.

I personally have been inspired by psychotherapist Martin Jordan's definition which can be found at:


Here is an extract (without references) from a longer piece I have written on the definition of ecotherapy. References can be found under: Links og ressourcer,


Ecotherapy as emerging clinical modality

Ecotherapy is a term often encountered in the literature (Mind, 2007; Burls, 2007a; Burls, 2004, Burls & Caan, 2005; Burns, 1998; Conn, 1998; Clinebell, 1996). However, it is used to describe a rather diverse range of therapeutic modalities. These range from the counselling of individual clients within a psychotherapeutic context (e.g. Berger & McLeod, 2006; Berger, 2006; Rust, 2004; Burns, 2005; 1998, Clinebell, 1996) to 'green care farms' (Pretty, 2006; Sempik & Aldridge, 2006), 'green exercise' (Pretty et al., 2005) and green gyms (Reynolds, 2002). Unfortunately, ecotherapy is also frequently used synonomously in the literature with terms such as animal-assisted therapy, adventure therapy and wilderness therapy.

"The term ecotherapy has been critiqued and discussed as one that may not be fully endorsed by all schools of thought in therapy" (Burls, 2007).

Not only is there a lack of clarity in relation to what ecotherapy encompasses in the way of modality, it is also used as a label for a range of approaches reflecting different theoretical positions. For example, pastoral counsellor, Howard Clinebell uses the term to describe "the healing and the growth that is nurtured by healthy interaction with the earth" (Clinebell, 1996). He applies Wilson's 'biophilia hypothesis' (the presumed genetically rooted affiliation humans have for the natural world - Kellert & Wilson, 1993), as the theoretical fundament of his individual-oriented therapeutic approach; an approach that employs processes of conscious re-establishing of "emotional bonds" with the earth to achieve therapeutic benefit, for example by 'prescribing' clients time in nature, (e.g. eliciting a commitment to daily walks in mindful silence in natural surroundings) (Clinebell, 1996). Clinical psychologist, George Burns, has also utilised the term ecotherapy to describe an essentially positive psychological, integrative, nature-guided approach to psychotherapy (Burns, 1998). In fact, Burns uses several different terms ecotherapy, ecopsychotherapy and nature-guided therapy synonymously. However, he admits to preferring the term ecopsychotherapy, on the grounds that it best reflects a dynamic interchange between the human mind and the environment and a fundamental reciprocity between human health and the health of natural systems that he wishes to convey (Burns, 1998). Burns utilises a range of ecotherapeutic strategies in largely psychotherapeutic settings with individual clients and couples (Ibid).

Public health researcher, Ambra Burls, has utilised the term contemporary ecotherapy to describe a horticultural and social therapeutic approach (and therefore group-based) with a conservational slant ("green stewardship"), whose aim is not only to improve the mental health and social inclusion of individual service users, but also "to benefit the environment in line with current biodiversity principles" and empower communities in the process (Burls, 2004; Burls, 2007).


Nature-guided therapy

is what George Burns has called his nature-based approach to psychotherapy. He also uses the terms ecopsychotherapy and ecotherapy. I think the terms nature-assisted, nature-guided, and nature-facilitated can be used interchangeably and as a prefix in front of psychotherapy, coaching etc.



is more a worldview than anything else. Many psychologists/ psychotherapists are practicing from this worldview (mostly in the US, UK and Australia) e.g. George Burns; Martin Jordan, MaryJayne Rust, Ronen Berger, Michael Cohen. Theodore Roszak.s book is the 'bible'. Ecopsychology is not yet recognised as a mainstream academic psychological discipline. Ecopsychology's main thesis is to ""bridge our culture's longstanding historical gulf between the psychological and the ecological" (Roszak, 1992) by resituating the human psyche within a profoundly ecological paradigm. Ecopsychology can be broadly defined as a contemporary, fringe movement of psychology that explores ways in which psychology can contribute to the solution of environmental problems, recognises the human psyche as an integral part of the web of nature and "seeks to redefine sanity within an environmental context" (Brown, 1995). According to Holmes, ecopsychology "is not a desciptive or empirical psychology as it is an ethical and practical outlook in response to the present environmental crisis" (Holmes, 2003).

Reference: Roszak, T., Gomes, M. E. & Kanner, A. D. (1995). Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind, San Francisco, CA, Sierra Club Books.

I like this quote from ecopsychologist James Hillmann (a jungian psychoanalyst and psychologist) who Burns talked of in the workshop in February 2008:


"We still locate the psyche inside the skin. You go inside to locate the psyche, you examine your feelings and your dreams, they belong to you. Or it's interrelations, interpsyche, between your psyche and mine. That's been extended a little bit into family systems and office groups - but the psyche, the soul, is still only within and between people. We're working on ourrelationships constantly, and our feelings and reflections, but look what's left out of that. What's left out is a deteriorating world. So why hasn't therapy noticed that? Because psychotherapy is only working on that 'inside' soul. By removing the soul from the world and not recognizing that the soul is also in the world, psychotherapy can't do its job anymore. the sickness is out there."


James Hillman, We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the World's Getting Worse, 1993.


Again, Martin Jordan has also provided a useful and concise description of ecopsychology. Take a look at his website: